Focus on youth yields early rewards with Afcon


In 2014, the national under-17 team Cubs were eliminated 4-1 on aggregate by Zambia at the final qualification round of the old home and away format used for the Afcon 2015 qualifiers.
The team coached by Mathias Lule and including the likes of Muhammad Shaban, Pius Obuya and Frank “Zaga” Tumwesigye captured the imagination of many with an enterprising brand of football.

This helped them ease past Seychelles in the opening round before sweeping aside Rwanda 7-2 on aggregate.
Their journey however seemed like the occasional flash in the pan that was often witnessed at that level in years past with previous administrations showing little support to youth football.

A year later however something drastic happened.
The FUFA Juniors League (FJL) was set up in 2015 with the aim of helping players in that age group gain more competitive experience.

Still, doubts lingered about the prolonged existence of the league even after it became a mandatory requirement for all the 16 Uganda Premier League clubs to have a junior side.
The championship though, persevered amid various flaws most notably the continued use of over age players.
The introduction of the Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan greatly reduced the vice, offering more opportunities for younger players to be involved.

So when the region resurrected the Under-17 Cecafa Youth Championship last held in 2009, Uganda was one of the countries not only best placed to compete but also with a more structured approach.
The Cubs now under the tutelage of Peter Onen formerly an assistant under Mathias Lule four years ago settled for third place after losing to Somalia in the semifinals.

A change in Afcon qualification format following a resolution from the Caf Symposium held in Rabat (Morocco) in July last year provided another opportunity for the Cubs.
The qualifiers for the 2019 U-17 Africa Cup of Nations were consequently played on a zonal basis (regional), to determine the seven teams to join host Tanzania for the final tournament next year.

Increase participation
The aim according to Caf, was to increase participation among members that often stay away from the competitions.
Onen consequently summoned 21 players with 14 of those coming from the FJL.
At the tournament, the Cubs lost their opening game 1-0 to Ethiopia, before recovering to win all their subsequent games, scoring the most goals in the process.

They routed South Sudan 6-1, topped rivals Kenya 3-1 before whitewashing Djibouti 8-0 to progress with nine points behind Ethiopia in Group B.
A 3-1 semifinal win over Cecafa champions Tanzania who had already qualified as hosts gave them the necessary confidence to exact revenge on the Ethiopians in the final.

Super goals
Goals from Samson Kassozi and a brace form Idd Abdul Wahid gave the Cubs are 3-0 lead before Ethiopian talisman Mintesnot Wakjira scored a late consolation.
Coach Peter Onen will take further pride in the fact his team scored 23 goals the most at the tournament.
Davis Sekajja scored five of those while Onduaparaka JT striker Idd and Najib Yiga added four to seal a first ever qualification.

Goal Keepers
Daniel Semwogerere (UPDF JT FC), Delton Oyo (KJSSS FC JT)
Kevin Ssekimbegga (Buddo SS), Samson Kasozi (Bright Stars FC JT, Kizito Mugweri Gavin (SC Villa)-Captain, John Rogers (Onduparaka FC JT), Juma Ibrahim (KCCA SA), Ibrahim Ekolot (Bright Stars FC JT)
Davis Ssekajja (Bright Stars FC JT), Yasin Abdul Owane (Rock High School), Polycarp Mwaka (Football For Good Academy Gulu), Thomas Kakaire (SC Vipers JT), John Kokas Alowo (URA FC JT),
Iddi Abdul Wahid (Onduparaka FC JT), Ivan Asaba (SC Vipers JT), Najib Yiga (Kisozi Seed High School), Owen Mukisa (BUL FC JT)

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