Africa-Press – Uganda. A lot has been said about Crested Cranes’ attacking prowess ahead of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) that starts Saturday in Morocco.
But coach George Lutalo’s outfit that has scored 27 goals in his 11 games in charge are actually more defensively sound than they get credit for.
With the way the 12-team tournament which doubles as Africa’s 2023 World Cup qualifier is set up, it might pay off in many ways to be defensively good.
The top two teams in each of the three groups advances to the quarterfinals.
And if Uganda cannot fall among those, there is still a chance to make the quarters as one of the two best third-placed teams and having a defence that can hold its own could be key for this.
Losing the quarterfinals is also ‘rewarding’ as the four teams that do not make the top four and ultimately the 32-team World Cup will enter a repechage.
The two winners of the repechage make the intercontinental World Cup qualification playoffs due in Australia and New Zealand in February next year.
The numbers, transition
Lutalo’s side have conceded just six times; one goal apiece against Zambia and Eswatini in the Cosafa Women Championship in September last year.
This was Lutalo’s first tournament and he lined up against Zambia with captain Ruth Aturo in goal, Asia Nakibuuka and Shadia Nankya as his centre back pairing, Viola Namuddu as right-back and Pheobe Banura as the left-back.
Before that, against Eswatini, Daisy Nakaziro had made her debut in goal.
Although Uganda was eliminated in the group stages, there were more worries about the inability to find goals than the defensive setup.
A few weeks later against Ethiopia, Lutalo turned to Sumaya Komuntale at left-back and the defence kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 home win but conceded twice in the second leg of this penultimate Wafcon qualifiers in October 2021 to cancel the advantage.
However, Aturo stood tall in the penalty shootouts that Uganda won 2-1 to set up the botched encounter with Kenya that eventually led them to Morocco.
The other two goals were conceded in two matches against Burundi at the Cecafa Women Championship early this month at Fufa Technical Centre, Njeru.
But the defence had had an almost extreme makeover. Nakibuuka was playing right-back with Namuddu dropped.
Aisha Nantongo and Margaret Namirimu were rewarded with starting berths after their impressive performances for the U-20 national team and Fufa Women Super League champions She Corporate respectively while Nankya was out injured and Aturo, yet to be released by her Finnish club, was replaced by Nakaziro. Crested Cranes kept three clean sheets in five games en route to winning the tournament in Njeru.
Ahead of Wafcon, there is likely a new twist. Of course, Aturo returns to goal but it Tuesday’s friendly with Zambia is anything to go by, then Yudaya Nakayenze returns to set up for the first time since 2019 to partner Nantongo.
But it would be foolhardy to attribute Uganda’s defensive abilities thus far on only the defence.
Lutalo has encouraged and coached his side to keep the ball as much as they can. The presence of Hasifah Nassuna, Shamirah Nalugya and at times Riticia Nabbosa, who all pride in varied passing ranges, in midfield facilitates that style of play. But behind them, defensive in midfielder Joan Nabirye is a peerless workaholic with a special ability to close space, organize those infront of her and also throw in hard tackles.Whenever she is in card trouble or uncharacteristically tired, Lutalo has turned to Sheebah Zalwango and lately Phionah Nabbumba to help. But there is also Tracy Jones Akiror returning to the set-up.
CRESTED CRANES DEFENCE
Goalkeepers: Ruth Aturo, Vanessa Edith Karungi, Daisy Nakaziro
Defenders: Yudaya Nakayenze, Aisha Nantongo, Margaret Namirimu, Bira Nadunga, Asia Nakibuuka, Sumaya Komuntale, Lukia Namubiru
Defensive midfielders: Joan Nabirye, Tracy Jones Akiror, Sheebah Zalwango
Utility player: Phionah Nabbumba