Exclusive: McKinstry outlines Uganda’s lofty Chan ambitions

Uganda Cranes coach Johnathan McKinstry with Chan squad.Fufa.

Johnny McKinstry has revealed to Goal that Uganda are aiming for a deep run in the 2021 African Nations Championship as the Cranes prepare for their tournament opener against Rwanda on Monday.

Speaking on the eve of their Group C East African derby, McKinstry has outlined his desire to end Uganda’s miserable track record of underperformance at the tournament for home-based players and go the distance in Cameroon.

“In terms of our ambitions for the tournament, this is Uganda’s fifth time in a row at the Chan,” he told Goal, “but to date, the national team has not progressed past the group stages.

“Now we consider this something of an anomaly. Why is that?

“There have been various reasons for that down the years, but this year, looking at ourselves and the group of players we have, there’s a confidence within the group that we can really go and do something.”

Uganda qualified after dispatching Somalia 7-2 on aggregate and then ousting Burundi 6-0 to advance via the Central Eastern Zone qualifiers, which took place between July and October 2019.

“The mantra we’ve adopted within the group is ‘why not us?’” McKinstry continued. “Why can it not be us that go deep into this tournament?”

The former Sierra Leone coach has, however, acknowledged the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on his side’s tournament planning.

“We’ve had solid preparations, [although] obviously the Covid-19 pandemic has made things difficult for all teams around the world,” he continued. “Usually, you’re preparing for these tournaments and you take in a whole range of activities in terms of the team-building activities etc.

“For this, it really has been hotel, dining, training, team meetings. We’ve had to limit ourselves because movement and interaction with people outside the group has been off-limits, so we’ve done what we feel has been best for the group in terms of preparing them in line with those regulations.

“We’ve had a good camaraderie within the group, there’s really good energy, the majority of our key players are fully fit and we go in confident that we can do something.”

Uganda have impressed during their tournament warm-up games, but must be wary of a group that contains reigning champions Morocco, debutants Togo, and East African rivals Rwanda.

“We’ve had some good warm-up games,” the coach added. “We’ve played three since we arrived; a draw with the hosts Cameroon, having played 77 minutes with 10 men, then victories over both Zambia and Niger.

“The players are in a good space both mentally and physically, and we’re looking forward to the kick-off against Rwanda.”

Uganda and Rwanda meet in Douala on Monday, before the Cranes meet Togo and Morocco in their second and third fixtures respectively.

“We believe we have the talent and energy to go deep into the tournament,” he concluded, “and now it’s just about putting that belief and all of those preparations into practice, and getting the performances we require when we walk out onto the field.”