Uganda Cranes coach Johnathan McKinstry is satisfied with his side’s preparations for the African Nations Championship finals (CHAN) after beating Zambia 2-0 on Monday at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Annex Stadium.
Vianney Ssekajugo and Steven Mukwala scored either side of the half time break as the Cranes picked up their first victory at the pre-CHAN mini-tournament.
The victory followed a 1-1 draw against tournament hosts Cameroon in their first build-up game on Friday. But McKinstry admits that his side still has work to do before the final tournament.
“We are happy with the two games played so far,” McKinstry said after the game.
“As a coaching staff, that gives us big decisions to make because had the first game been good and the second one bad, then it makes it easier to pick the final team.”
“But now we have had two games and everyone has turned up and put-up great performances. So, we are happy that we have those difficult decisions to make.”
“We are in a good position now, we still have work to do to prepare for CHAN, but we are moving in the right direction,” he added.
McKinstry made 10 changes to his line-up that played against Cameroon; only Tony Mawejje retaining his place in the side.
Defenders Hassan Muhamood and Eric Ssenjobe were given their first run-outs with the Cranes while Uganda U20 midfielder Bobosi Byaruhanga also had his first taste of action with the senior team.
“We are very pleased following our first game in Cameroon,” the Irishman said, adding; “After what was a very positive performance against the hosts a few days ago, we decided to change basically everybody in the team.”
“We maintained only one player in Tony (Mawejje) but that was purely to make sure that our midfield had the right balance.”
“But we knew that he would come off at half time and Shafiq (Kagimu) would come in. We knew what subs were going to come on and the players knew as well,” McKinstry explained his decision to ring the changes.
The Cranes were the better side for much of the first half and took the lead through a clean finish from Ssekajugo in the 25th minute.
Ssenjobe was very much involved in Cranes’ attacking play, and came close to scoring twice, first with a ferocious effort that sailed wide and then with a powerful header that missed the target by inches.
Muhamood was impressive in defence, pulling off a couple of valiant blocks and also aiding the team’s build-up play with his comfort and composure on the ball.
But the Cranes were gifted the second goal, Steven Mukwala capitalising on shambolic build-up play form the Chipolopolo to double Uganda’s advantage at the hour mark.
Zambia perhaps walked away feeling hard done by after they were twice denied by the upright in the second half.
And while McKinstry admits that the Zambians presented a tougher challenge than Cameroon, he commended his players for the resilience and application of their tactical approach.
“Overall, I thought that the 10 players who came in, put on a good performance. To win 2-0 against a quality Zambia team, I felt we deserved it because we created quality chances in the game,” he stated.
“Zambia created chances as well, but I felt they were more of half-chances compared to ours which were quality chances. And when you create good chances, you are most probably going to score.”
“I was pleased with the guys; I was pleased with their application. I thought this was a more difficult game than the Cameroon game.”
“I thought Zambia created more problems for us compared to the Cameroon game, but that then goes back to players to show their resilience,” he mentioned.
Uganda will return to action on Thursday against Niger in their last build-up game before the CHAN tournament, while Zambia will also face Cameroon on January 7.
Uganda is drawn in group C alongside Morocco, Rwanda and Togo while Zambia has been drawn in pool D for the CHAN against Guinea, Namibia and Tanzania.
The CHAN tournament is expected to get underway on January 16 and will run until February 7, 2021, in four cities in Cameroon.