There is an air of fresh expectation around the Uganda Cranes camp as the national team begins the rebuilding process in earnest against South Africa today.
The Bafana Bafana and Cranes, all casualties of their failed Afcon 2021 campaign, face off in a friendly at Orlando Stadium looking for a sign into the future.
Both go into this with some new faces at the helm, and some good new names in the playing staff.
For the Cranes, five youngsters of the 23-man squad played at the U20 Afcon finals, where they lost to Ghana in the last match of the tournament this year.
They also have younger players like 20-year-old forward Allan Okello, who plays for Algeria’s Paradou, that are hungry to get it going. And the former KCCA player knows that the weight has - in a way - since shifted from the shoulders of the old to them, and that they must embrace it.
“Everyone is in high spirits, especially when the former captain (Denis Onyango) came by and motivated the players,” said Okello. Retired Onyango, fresh from lifting his eighth Premier Soccer League (PSL) title at the weekend, checked on the boys at their camp in Johannesburg ahead of today’s showdown.
“We trained well and everyone is ready for the game,” added Okello, who could float behind and between skipper Emmanuel Okwi and Abdallah Lumala in a three-man attack.
SuperSport United’s Moses Waiswa, standing infront of and shoulder to shoulder with Taddeo Lwanga and Shafik Kagimu, should provide the much needed dictation and thrust through the middle.
Chippa United’s Ismael Watenga is the more experienced with the national team than Charles Lukwago and Matthias Kigonya. It would not be a surprise him starting in goal.
Paul Willa and Mustafa Kizza are favourites to start as full backs, while Express strong man Murushid Juuko and Vipers Halid Lwaliwa should challenge South African attackers in central defence.
“We need togetherness to get what we need in the game,” emphasized Okello, who understands the stakes as Uganda prepare for Kenya in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers due September, “We shall do our best.
“Of course it has always been pressure on experienced players and now it’s on our shoulders.
“I think it’s the time for us young players to hold the candle and deliver.”
After his visit to the team, Onyango, too, spoke with optimism about the future.
“I’ve seen a few guys who are very young and I believe that if we are building for the future, it’s the right time,” said the
Mamelodi Sundowns shot stopper and South Africa Goalkeeper of the 2020/21 season.
“They must give their best and try and start well on Thursday because it’s very important for them to start well the build up for the upcoming qualifiers.
“It gives me joy to come and see my home boys preparing to play against South Africa.”
During his visit, Onyango’s first stop over was with the three Cranes goalkeepers.
“Of course goalkeeping is the most experienced part of my life and speaking to them first was really nice,” he narrated.
“I was trying to remind them that for Uganda to qualify for the previous campaigns we were having a lot of clean sheets.
“So they must do their best, not to do what Denis did but what they are supposed to do... And that is to do goalkeeping, to do the job with the team.
“I worked with Kigonya, I worked with Lukwago for a very long time, and also Watenga.
“They have to take the chance and give the best for the nation.”
Uganda will open their 2022 World Cup qualifiers away to Kenya while South Africa travel to Zimbabwe.
- Bafana Bafana and the Cranes have met three times since their first encounter in 2004, a 2006 World Cup qualifier at Namboole.
- South Africa won 1-0 as well as 2-1 in the reverse fixture. The two teams shared the poils the last time they met in the 2019 Cosafa Cup Semi final.
South Africa vs Cranes
Uganda probable lineup
Ismael Watenga, Paul Willa, Kizza Mustafa, Murushid Juuko, Lwaliwa Halid
Lwanga Taddeo, Kagimu Shafik, Waiswa Moses, Lumala Abdul, Okello Allan, Okwi Emmanuel (cpt)