Crested Cranes must address how to make set-pieces count

Huge task. Lutalo has his work cut out in fine-tuning the Crested Cranes set-piece productivity. PHOTO | JOHN BATANUDDE

Ten matches, 22 goals, six conceded, one trophy and a qualification to the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon). Coach George Lutalo’s reign with the women’s national football Crested Cranes makes for good reading.

In fact the Crested Cranes are threatening to return from the July 2-23 Wafcon in Morocco, that also double was the 2023 World Cup qualifiers for Africa, with further enhanced reputations.

But there is one worry. Uganda are not as threatening at set-pieces as they were previously.

In 2018 and 2019, Uganda got to the podium of the Cecafa and Cosafa Women Championship playing – at times – purely for set-pieces.

Lillian Mutuuzo and Zainah Namuleme would regularly attract contact. Grace Aluka delivered the balls with pace and power while Yudaya Nakayenze and Shadia Nankya attacked them with grit. Tracy Akiror waited for loose balls at the back post.

Bevy of options

Aluka, Namuleme and Nankya are not in Morocco. But the current team has players who take these dead-ball responsibilities for their clubs. At Cecafa, they seemed not to have a pecking order, especially for freekicks within 30 yards.

Margaret Kunihira and Hasifah Nassuna delivered most of the corner kicks though.

Both can be trusted on freekicks but so can Aisha Nantongo, especially from distance, Sandra Nabweteme, Fazila Ikwaput, Phionah Nabbumba and Shamirah Nalugya.

Uganda have hardly needed to convert their setpieces recently as the goals under Lutalo have been free-flowing like their football.

They can further argue that the end justifies the means and they have gone two further by making it to Morocco and winning Cecafa in under a year.

But there is no harm in going to the continental showpiece as the full package - especially if you consider that in Lutalo’s first tournament, Uganda failed to score against Namibia in a 0-0 draw and a Zambia in a 1-0 loss. 

Dead-ball prowess works

That well executed set-piece routine could still make a difference in evenly poised games as Ikwaput’s acrobatic kick from Nassuna’s corner kick did in extra time in that 1-0 win over Ethiopia in the Cecafa semifinals early this month.

To unlock Eswatini at Cecafa last year, Joan Nabirye had to shoot for the opener from a poorly cleared corner kick. Nassuna then came off the bench to convert a 73rd minute free-kick.

Nantongo equally headed in Kunihira’s corner kick to unlock Djibouti in the second match of the Cecafa Championship. Nantongo also delivered the freekick, from wide left, that Nassuna cushioned in Nabweteme’s path for the opener in the final against Burundi. 

So even though Lutalo’s attack has varied prowess, enhancing his set-piece routine could still work some magic.

Attacking variance

 Ikwaput is probably the hottest prospect breaking through the channels from wide positions. Nabweteme loves to come shot but can get on the end of attacks in the box and can shoot from distance. 

In fact, there was emphasis on shooting from the distance for all players during the training sessions; long range goals from midfielders Nalugya, Nabbumba and defender Margaret Namirimu during the recent Cecafa championship.

Shortly before the team left the residential camp in Kisaasi for Marrakech, Lutalo was working on the team’s aerial ability with wingers and fullbacks encouraged to cross balls purposefully. Hopefully, the freekicks, corners and penalties have had their time too.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.