Cranes fullbacks need to step up to the plate

By Robert Madoi

The Cranes failed to disguise its mediocrity as an attacking unit. It was perhaps not a great surprise especially when one looks at the team’s past five or so results. Goals — the cornerstone on which footballing feats rest — had by all accounts dried up.

One of the abiding images from last weekend’s goalless draw at home to Tanzania came with barely a minute left to play. There Cranes coach Sebastien Desabre was on bended knee — literally and metaphorically — with his veneer of confidence well and truly cracked. It was a profoundly haunting sight, one that took us behind the no-nonsense practicality of the Frenchman’s manner.

Yet the brutal truth is that Desabre’s charges would have played for another 90 minutes and still not managed to breach Tanzania’s goal.

Such was the dubious mess. The Cranes failed to disguise its mediocrity as an attacking unit. It was perhaps not a great surprise especially when one looks at the team’s past five or so results. Goals — the cornerstone on which footballing feats rest — had by all accounts dried up.

So it invariably followed that the lack of cutting edge in front of goal inflicted the damage it was expected to. This was hardly surprising. Something else also wasn’t surprising — the knee jerk response from many people, which has been to condemn Desabre to the guillotine.

It might sound French and all, but is in fact a typically Ugandan response. We have never cared to stoutly resist the lures of short fixes. Addressing underlying issues to a problem is widely seen as burdensome.

There’s clearly a more nuanced layer to be unraveled here though. Not just the symptoms. Cranes skipper Denis Onyango has always been fairly relentless in his depiction of Uganda’s struggles in the final third.

His assessment is anything but a crowd-pleaser that plays well to a wide audience. When the Cranes returned from a training camp in Niger a few months back, Onyango decried the absence of an experienced spearhead. He offered a name, which was a warhorse in the shape of Geoffrey Massa.

During last Saturday’s goalless draw, the lack of a physical presence in the final third was starkly apparent from a Cranes perspective. Clearly, Onyango’s thought process does more than add a wrinkle to the subject.

Didier Deschamps’ recent comments about how France will become more acutely aware of the intangibles the much-maligned Olivier Giroud brings to the table once he calls time on his international career now sounds vaguely familiar for many a Ugandan.

This column is not pining for a Massa comeback. Far from it. What your columnist actually would love to see is Cranes fullbacks step up to the plate. The fullback (or wingback for a back three) position has grown in importance over the years.

With the centre of the pack teeming with bodies, many teams have found joy by asking their fullbacks to venture forward and get the early ball in.

KCCA FC has enjoyed rich rewards with this approach on the continent thanks in no small measure to Mustafa Kizza living up to his sobriquet — the gift that keeps giving. At the 2018 Fifa World Cup, we saw how important Benjamin Pavard and Luis Hernandez were for eventual winners France. Pep Guardiola spent a princely sum (the kind strikers command) in locking down quality fullbacks ahead of the 2017/18 English Premier League season, and the rest as they say is history.

You could go on and on with the examples, and one consistent message will prevail — a fullback who gets quality crosses in the box is priceless. Question is: do Nico Wadada and Godfrey Walusimbi fit the bill? If they did, chances are Desabre would not have been left on bended knee soiling his suit. Especially when he sent a good attacker of quality crosses on the pitch in the shape of Patrick Kaddu.

How Cosafa continues to leave Cecafa in its wake

Crested Cranes coach Faridah Bulega has sounded innocuous enough, if a little pompous, whilst fielding questions at the 2018 Cosafa Women Championship in South Africa.

Bulega’s unfeigned enthusiasm owes to the fact that — while not unlike anything Uganda women’s football has seen before — she seems to always be in the habit of staking a reasonable claim to relevance.

When a young impressionable team recently set off for Tanzania to take part in the Cecafa Women Championship, many didn’t expect Bulega to emerge from the assignment smelling of roses.

A second placement, however, showed that the cause for despair after the team was shorn of the services of star player Hasifah Nassuna was misplaced. Bulega was well and truly smelling of roses.

With Nassuna in tow, Bulega showed midweek that her team could arouse fears and fascination in the same way.

A topsy-turvy 4-3 win over Swaziland at the ongoing Cosafa Women Championship showed as many bright spots as fissures. It was a classic example of the clichéd tale of two halves, with the Crested Cranes doing well to survive a second half onslaught.

Elsewhere, a ruthlessly unsentimental look at the 2018 Cosafa Women Championship and Cecafa’s answer to it reveal a not so dissimilar tale of two. The quintessential chalk and cheese, it is plain to see that both tournaments are cut out of starkly different pieces of garb. Cecafa being the cheap one with a made in China label of course.

Cosafa through its offerings — the women’s championship and its men’s showpiece cup to mention but two — has demonstrated that it is capable of warmth and progressiveness that continues to elude Cecafa.

Mired in confusion and shame brought about by the seasonality of its flagship tournaments, Cecafa finds itself in a time warp. It is not much a disappointing mystery as much as it is excruciatingly obvious that Cecafa is chasing shadows.

It might have such a rich pedigree, but Cecafa’s snail pace continues to leave many people at their wits’ end. Basics like how to corral visibility in the digital age we live in continue to be rocket science to Cecafa.

Little wonder, football enthusiasts in the region have given to frightening outpourings of bitterness at their circumstances.

What we now know….

We know that Uganda plays Western Province at the Pietermaritzburg Oval today. The match, the third Cricket Cranes is playing in the Africa T20 Cup, comes hot on the heels of fixtures against Kwazulu Natal Coastal and Kwazulu Natal Inland.

We also know that the tournament held under the auspices of Cricket South Africa, has corralled franchise teams in South Africa. African nations are figuring as invitational sides. Uganda is used the tournament to build up for the ICC Division Three World Cricket League.

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