The African Nations Championship (Chan) finally kicked off in Cameroon at the weekend nine months later, albeit hardly the kind of start Uganda had hoped for.
‘Uninspiring’ could be read in both the goalless draw and display.
The stalemate with regional neighbours, Rwanda, on Monday night in Douala left the Cranes with little margin for error ahead of Togo on Friday.
While the result is not catastrophic when you consider it was a derby, the lineup coach Johnny McKinstry put out raised a few eyebrows.
Understandably, impressive Mustafa Mujuzi started alongside Paul Mbowa in central defence.
This was because captain Halid Lwaliwa, who is expected back in time for Togo, had a knock. Paul Willa beat a more experienced Denis Iguma for right back while Aziz Kayondo was straightforward at left back.
Shafiq Kagimu started ahead of Tonny Mawejje in holding role, yet the latter’s calming experience - and the suggestion that he could be more effective starting - could perhaps have helped open up more for the attackers.
The midfield lacked balance with Karim Watambala and Bright Anukani, who also missed the build-up tourney away with KCCA, in an advanced role, and in-form Saidi Kyeyune sitting out the entire match.
McKinstry, who admitted the continental stage could have overwhelmed his boys - most of whom are first-timers here, explained his choices.
“On Mawejje and Iguma, obviously both of them are quality players and they have their role on the squad and the team,” expounded the 35-year-old Northern Irishman. “Sometimes they will start, sometimes they will be on the bench, and the rationale for having such players in was the experience they bring when it’s needed. “They can be on the field to help and guide those younger players and that’s what Tonny did when he came on.
“So in hindsight, would it have been different to go with a slightly different starting midfield?
“It really is hard to say because what you’ve got to remember, you’ve got to go on the evidence that we have.
“The evidence we have through the qualifying, Cecafa, through even the Pre-Chan tournament, each of these tournaments the levels are getting higher and higher.
“The players (younger) that you’re talking of, they showed in each of these levels that they were taking step by step progress. “So in any industry really, if they continue fulfilling requirements of each level, then you have to reinforce that confidence by giving them the opportunity at the next level.
“So I think the purpose of Chan is to provide the platform for talented young players to go out and showcase themselves.
“It’s the same approach I took for Rwanda in 2016, majority of players there were young.
“So, the experienced guys are there. They will play their role. Sometimes they will start, sometimes they will come into the game.”
Why Karisa started
Further upfront, Milton Karisa’s three goals in the build-up tourney must have informed McKinstry starting him up top ahead of Brian Aheebwa and Muhammad Shaban.
Aheebwa came into the tournament with 10 goals in six club matches.
Karisa was later forced off injured after 12 minutes, with Aheebwa finally assuming the role, and showing sharpness with some runs; one of his fierce shots deflected narrowly wide.
“If you look at the Pre-Chan tournament,” McKinstry explained, “We obviously moved Karisa into the striking.
“And he started against Cameroon and Niger at number 9 and scored thrice and had one assist, and a couple of other chances.
“So when someone makes requirements of the role then they deserve to play.
“And Brian came in a little late as he was involved with KCCA, where we know he’s had a fantastic start to the season.
“And that’s ultimately why, when Milton got injured, it was a pretty straightforward decision to make, the guy in form had to come in.”
On in-form Kyeyune not coming on, McKinstry offered: “Ultimately, at that stage all substitutions had been used because we had to make a forced change in the first half.
“And we feel both Mawejje and Ben Ocen (second half substitutions) had a positive impact but we could not make any more substitutions.”
Uganda had more of the ball overall but it is Rwanda that were more incisive towards the Cranes goal.
The moment of the game was produced by Rwanda attacker Muhadjiri Hakizimana, the number 10 turning two Ugandans in one spin before beating Mujuzzi - only for his pile-driver to ricochet off the crossbar.
Amavubi captain Jacques Tuyisenge also had his header crash off the upright on the stroke of half time, Charles Lukwago fully beaten in Uganda’s goal.
“The first half was really frustrating for players and staff alike,” admitted McKinstry.
“But we created a few chances through a level of some build-up play after bringing on Mawejje for Anukani and Ocen for Viane Ssekajugo,” he explained.
“It was a case of ‘we needed more confidence.’ All the players know that, they know we can do better.
“We’ve got a big game against Togo and it’s about getting the players back together and to full fitness.
“It’s a big game for them as well having lost to Morocco.”
You can remove the highlighted interview below if space is not enough.
Watambala, too, admitted they fell short. “We just have to get back to the drawing board and work hard to creating more chances and scoring,” he said.
“It was my first time in Chan tournament and am pleased that I played the 90 minutes and I’ve learnt many things from the game.
“So I’m looking forward to deliver in my second game in case am given the opportunity again.”
The result left Uganda and Rwanda trailing Chan defending champions, Morocco - who edged Togo 1-0 in the night’s first game.
Morocco top Group C on three points, with the Cranes and Amavubi Stars sharing one apiece.
Uganda 0-0 Rwanda
Morocco 1-0 Togo
Next group games
Uganda vs. Togo, 10pm
Morocco vs. Rwanda, 10pm
Uganda vs. Morocco, 10pm
Togo vs. Rwanda, 10pm
(LIVE on StarTimes, KBC)