Few African national teams have seen their stock rise over the last 18 months more than Uganda.
The Cranes ended their 38-year wait to reach the Africa Cup of Nations when they qualified for Gabon, and while they fell at the first hurdle, they won many admirers in the process.
Similarly, during World Cup qualifying, they beat Egypt and took two points from Ghana to demonstrate, once again, that they could hold their own with the continent’s top nations.
While only five of the Afcon 2017 squad were from the Ugandan Premier League, former coach Micho Sredojevic was ever willing to introduce players from the domestic top flight into the national team.
Joseph Ochaya, Nicholas Wadada and Geoffrey Sserunkuma were key figures of the Nations Cup team, while many of the top flight’s brightest young stars were given their international bows by the Serbian boss.
Consequently, several players in the squad that’s heading to Morocco for the Africa Cup of Nations have already tasted international football during the World Cup qualifiers.
Several, too, are members of the team that reached the semi-finals of the U-20 COSAFA Cup last year, where they were defeated by Lesotho on penalties.
Notably, hitman Muhammad Shaban, who won the golden boot during that youth tournament, memorably netting twice against Zambia in the process, has already had a taste of life with the senior side, and has the quality to be one of the breakout stars of the CHAN.
On Saturday, it was another attacker, and another potential star of the tournament—Nelson Senkatuka—who found the net as the Cranes came back from a goal down to draw 1-1 win Guinea in a friendly in Rabat.
Camara Saidouba Bissiri opened the scoring for the West Africans in the 65th minute, but Uganda responded through Senkatuka, who found the net shortly after replacing midfield anchorman Taddeo Lwanga.
Senkatuka and Shaban are just two of the attacking options available to incoming coach Sebastian Desabre, who has the opportunity to understand the qualities and the limitations of these homebased Cranes before tackling the Afcon qualifiers with the entirety of his continent.
During Saturday’s friendly, he will surely have delighted in the subtle but occasionally scintillating exchanges of Ibrahim Juma and Derrick Nsibambi, both of whom dovetailed well with Allan Kyambadde.
Another midfielder, Milton Karisa, is a superb talent, whose work down the right flank should terrorise left-backs for the duration of the CHAN. The diminutive wideman impresses with his delivery, and also has the upper-body strength to take on bigger defenders.
“Our second half wasn’t the best in the opening 20 minutes but we changed the strategy and system to 4-4-2,” Desabre told the Ugandan Federation. “From then on the game was so open to both sides.
“I liked the attitude, mentality and character of the team. This game has given me chance assess players further which allows me to make a choice on the squad and line up.”
Already, talented Ugandan attackers from the UPL, players such as Farouk Miya and Tony Mawejje, have stepped up from the domestic top flight to European competition, and several of this CHAN squad already appear ripe for a move abroad.
If Desabre can quickly adapt to the demands of coaching an African national team—something he’s never previously done—and create a coherent offensive unit of this talented cabal of players, then don’t be surprised if Uganda go all the way in Morocco.