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CHAN 2020: Five key players for the Cranes

By Shafic Kiyaga
Tony Mawejje (R) and AbdulKarim Watambala (L) plot over a free kick | photo by Allim football management

Johnathan McKinstry will look to re-write history as he and the Uganda Cranes look to end their continued dismal performance at the African Nations Championships (CHAN).

The Cranes have been regulars at the tournament that is exclusive to players playing in their respective national leagues, participating in each of the five CHAN editions, but have seldom progressed beyond the group stages. 

McKinstry has selected a largely inexperienced squad. Exciting youngsters Bobosi Byaruhanga and Aziz Kayondo from the Uganda U20s have been included, while there have been first time selections for Police duo Hassan Muhamood and Eric Ssenjobe.

Uganda face a strong challenge in group C. the Cranes start their campaign against neighbours Rwanda on January 18, followed by defending champions Morocco on January 22 before they face minnows Togo on January 26.

The Cranes have passed the acid test, scoring in all their build up games at the pre-CHAN build up tournament.

Only hosts Cameroon breached the Cranes’ defence in a 1-1 draw, but they won two games against Zambia and Niger with a brilliant performance from Milton Kariisa.

We will look at the five key players for the Cranes at CHAN 2020.

Brian Aheebwa

The one name that has been grabbing all the headlines and for the right reasons is Aheebwa, and the striker will definitely be the star of the Cranes in attack.

Since his big move to KCCA at the start of the season, Aheebwa has not turned back. In his first six games for the club, he has scored 10 goals, including two hattricks; one in his first continental game as KCCA fell just short of overturning their qualifier against AS Kigali.

The burden of scoring goals will lay on Aheebwa’s shoulders and it will be left to see whether the burden weighs too heavy on his shoulders or not.

Tony Mawejje

Mawejje is the most experienced player on the Uganda Cranes squad. The midfielder has amassed 83 senior appearances on the national team, and ranks second on the list of the most capped players.

His experience with the Cranes ranges from appearances at the Africa Cup of Nations, and will add appearance at CHAN to his legendary acclaim.

Mawejje will be expected to play the big brother role and bring a bit of his calm head in the dressing room and on the pitch.

At 33, Mawejje still carries the competitiveness and desire to give his all and will play a key role if the Cranes are to make real progress.

Halid Lwaliwa

Lwaliwa has had a bit of a stop-start season with Vipers due to his longstanding injury problems and then to COVID-19.

He marked his first appearance on the senior Cranes team by scoring the winner against South Sudan in November, going on to also make his first start in the return leg of the AFCON qualifier.

He brings a rather experienced head and capable leadership. Lwaliwa will hold the backline for Uganda and along with providing resilience in defence, he can chip in with a goal or two.

AbdulKarim Watambala

The Cranes are expected to provide as much excitement especially in attack, going by their performances in the build up games. But in the midst of it all stands 20-year-old playmaker Watambala.

Watambala’s energy, industry and intent to always put the team on the front foot will be crucial for McKinstry’s side especially for the forwards like Aheebwa, Milton Kariisa and Joachim Ojera.

He is without doubt among the sensational talents in McKinstry’s team. Watambala has been profoundly praised by his coach for his desire and urgency in helping the team transit to attack. Uganda will obviously look for the midfielder for a bit of inspiration.

Eric Ssenjobe

Eric Ssenjobe is one of the breakout players of the StarTimes Uganda Premier League so far this season. Ssenjobe, a KCCA academy graduate has been sturdy in defence and a great threat in attack.

The left-back has played a starring role since making a move to Police FC at the start of the season.

Within five games, he has earned a place on the CHAN team, a possibility that looked unimaginable when the tournament was first called off in March 2020.

Ssenjobe has put up tremendous performances as the Cops under Cranes assistant coach Abdallah Mubiru have risen up the table to third.

The 21-year-old will be a force for the Cranes with his solidity in 1V1 situations, capability in attack the key attributes of his game.

His great movement going forward, crossing and threat in the opposite box especially in set-piece situations will make him a player to watch not only at CHAN but in the future.

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