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Cranes Missing at Afcon, What Went Wrong?

Mujib Kasule, former Cranes player and a football pundit believes FUFA’s decision to let Desabre go was the first error FUFA did, he explains that in Desabre, the Cranes had gotten a coach that was improving players and the entire team was steadily improving.
Uganda Cranes team

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In the last two editions of the African Cup of Nations, there were visible signs of progress for the Uganda National soccer team, the Cranes, having earned a back-to-back qualification, in Gabon 2017, and also the 2019 event in Egypt.

To qualify for the 2017 Afcon event, the Cranes were breaking a jinx of 38 years since Uganda's last appearance in the continental championship. The qualification for the 2017 event looked like the beginning of the progress for the Cranes. While qualifying for the next edition of 2019, Uganda had steadily improved, in fact, the Cranes topped their qualifiers group with 13 points.

In the final tournament itself, Uganda progressed up to the last round of sixteen, an improvement from the 2017 edition where Ugandan was eliminated in the group stages. From that, one would think, qualifying for AFCON had become a norm for the senior national soccer team.

Having played up to the round of sixteen in the 2019 edition, Uganda came back boosted to kick off qualifiers for the 2021 edition, and indeed it was a perfect start after sealing seven points from the first three games, Uganda played, two victories against Malawi and South Sudan respectively, and a draw against Burkina Faso. 

However, things started turning around, with the loss against South Sudan in the return leg, and eventually, Uganda never realized her dream of qualifying for the biggest continental soccer event for the third consecutive time. But what went wrong? 

Immediately after returning home, FUFA announced that they had parted ways with the then head coach Sebastien Desabre who two days later joined Egyptian-based club Pyramids FC.

Since Desabre's departure, Uganda’s performance started to lower. And since then, the Cranes has changed over three coaches including Jonathan Ministry, Abdallah Mubiru, and lately Milutin Sredojevic "Micho".

Mujib Kasule, former Cranes player and a football pundit believes FUFA’s decision to let Desabre go was the first error FUFA did, he explains that in Desabre, the Cranes had gotten a coach that was improving players and the entire team was steadily improving.

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Additionally, he also puts the blame on the technical people in the Federation who failed to secure a new team that will push the glory forward. “The reason why we are not at Afcon is that when we qualified in 2017 and 2019 we got excited and we got complacent because we thought now we have gone back to back now it’s a norm and we forgot that you don’t go to Afcon by mistake, you need to prepare, you need to have a strong team and you have to build it”.

In his argument, Kasule says that the members of the team that qualified for the back-to-back tournaments had been part of the team for the last decade, therefore they had served in their own capacities, therefore, it was the responsibility of the Federation to look for their replacements before their retirement.

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Adding that, by the time, the Cranes technical team considered looking for possible replacements for the senior players, it was too late to catch the qualification.

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Additionally, Kasule believes, the weakness of the local league also badly affected Uganda Cranes’ performance. He said for a national team to make steady progress, the local league must be prioritized and improved because it is the grass root of all players that feature for the national team.

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What Uganda loses in its absence at Afcon 

As one of the country's most credible football pundits, Kasule explains that when a team fails to qualify for the biggest soccer event of the continent, the immediate effect that comes with it is a downgrade in the CAF and FIFA rankings.

He further explains that the new rankings will mostly likely place the Cranes in seed three which is most likely to put Uganda alongside two strong teams that will make it harder for the Cranes to penetrate through the qualifying group.

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He adds that when you disappear from this international stage you are off the eyes of the people, even the players cannot showcase their talents.

"After 2019 Afcon, many of our players left for professional leagues - almost the entire eleven- and also the money we lose because when you go to AFCON, there is money you get”. Kasule said.

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What should be done? 

According to Kasule, the local soccer governing body, FUFA, should admit their failure to prepare a team that can replace the ageing senior players, and concentrate on nurturing and grooming a new team that will be able to compete in the next ten years.

Additionally, Kasule believes the Federation should also add extra emphasis on the competitiveness of the local league.

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