KAMPALA. Uganda’s women football team Crested Cranes went to Rwanda for the Cecafa Championship as the dark horses.
After four matches, the youngest side at the tournament return, by road by the way, as runners-up and depending on yesterday’s result between Tanzania and Ethiopia, Crested Cranes could either be level on points with the champion or just two points shy of the top in the round-robin campaign.
Here is why we think the passionate crowd back home should not despair after the team defeated Kenya 1-0, came back from a goal down to beat Ethiopia 2-1 then recovered from a 1-4 loss to Tanzania to draw 2-2 with the hosts.
Punching above weight
Well in sport, you have always got to fancy your chances but Uganda had no business believing they could get one over Kenya or Ethiopia before the tournament.
The two are regional giants who also have the experience of perennially taking part in Africa Cup (AWCON) qualifiers – a level Uganda had only last been at in 2002 before a poor attempt in 2012 and then an unsuccessful return this year.
This is a tricky one as Fufa must be willing to make foreign-based players available.
US-based Sandra Nabweteme once posted on Facebook that she would like to represent her country while Jean Sseninde and Laki Otandeka were in the country in May just before this tournament was postponed to this month.
Uganda was unfortunate not to have Hasifah Nassuna and Shakirah Mutiibwa at this tournament as they completed a move to the Kansas Community College, USA. Nassuna was top scorer at the 2016 home edition in Njeru while Mutiibwa was part of the Uganda team that put up a respectable performance in the 1-0 aggregate loss to Kenya in the first round of the 2018 AWCON qualifiers in April.
While the two captains were away, Tracy Jones Akiror emerged as an even more effective leader in the team but more players like Lilian Mutuuzo, Bridget Nabisaalu and Phionah Nabbumba have made the most of their selection.
The 2016 tournament revelation and reigning Fufa female player of the year Fazilah Ikwaput was another big miss as she is now based in Kazakhstan while Ritah Nabbosa went awol days to the tournament ,and goalkeeper Vanessa Kalungi missed most of the season.
You can add budding striker Fauziah Najjemba, who was only left out because coach Faridah Bulega had enough young forwards in Juliet Nalukenge and Mutuuzo, among those that will cause future selection headaches.
This depth in talent is due to the progressive Fufa Women Elite League and the ever improving secondary schools competitions.
A coach willing to adapt
For Uganda to be here, it has been a mixture of baby and giant steps that started with that AWCON qualifier against Kenya.
In that two-legged encounter, Uganda defended well but did not look like they had a strategy on how to score goals.
Bulega then came into this Cecafa with a team that could hurt opponents with setpieces.
The height of Norah Alupo, Shadia Nankya and the leap of her central defence partner Yudaya Nakayenze were as much a constant threat as were the deliveries of Nabbumba, Viola Namuddu, Zainah Namuleme and Grace Aluka.
When Crested Cranes could not utilise their height, the likes of Mutuuzo were trained to be in the right places to pick rebounds or, like against Rwanda, influence games from open play with their trickery.