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Does McKinstry have a plan to save Cranes from another CHAN fiasco?

By Shafic Kiyaga
Johnathan McKinstry urges his players on in their Group C game against Togo | Photo credit: FUFA Media / XtraTimeSports (Darren McKinstry)

It is prudent to note that any team going into any major tournament always has a plan; a clear picture of what their best tactical shape is, their best eleven and all the other stuff. It is near suicidal not to have a plan.

Immaculate planning is what makes or breaks your chances at a tournament at the level of the African Nations Championships (CHAN) currently taking place in Cameroon.

Throw that to someone like Uganda Cranes coach Johnathan McKinstry and his technical team who make sure that every painstaking detail is covered during the planning process and you are doubly sure that they have done all available homework.

But in football, no level of preparation seems to be enough when the ball eventually starts rolling. Somethings you expect but are never prepared for.

McKinstry and the Uganda Cranes find themselves in a similar scenario; two games into the tournament, and despite as much scrapping, Uganda are miles off the road they fantasized about when they touched down in Cameroon in December.

McKinstry must be espying at the heavens wondering how it all crumbled as fast and asking Tony Mawejje and Shafiq Kagimu from which direction does the sunrise from.

When you try to find answers to what has not gone according to plan, it is easy to agree; pretty much everything. The defense has been ragged and has struggled to play the critical role of helping the team transition from defense to attack.

The midfield has looked devoid of options, too shallow and most of the time isolated. Kagimu was toil wormed against Rwanda while AbdulKarim Watambala might still be afraid of stepping onto the pitch again.

On the plus side, Saidi Kyeyune looked sharp during his 45-minute cameo against Togo, pulling something out of the top drawer to score what is worthy of a nomination for the Puskas award.

The struggles in defence and midfield have been heightened by the reticence in attack. Against Rwanda, the Cranes had created negligible chances, against Togo, they were better, had gazillion shots but admittedly failed to find that extra bit of creativity in the final third.

Muhammad Shaban who started upfront looked less of a clever predator and more cadet. Brian Aheebwa also failed to provide that focal point in attack for the 75 minutes or so he played against Rwanda.

Vianney Ssekajugo is yet to get a hold of how to control a football while Joachim Ojera even for his pace is almost making a nuisance of himself and looks like energy wasted with his final delivery.

All that sums up Cranes’ sombre group stage performance and has brought Uganda to a familiar position, one they have been at in each of their last four appearances at CHAN; staring critically at another group stage exit.

McKinstry has chopped and changed in every game, using all three of his permitted substitutions in each of the games they have played so far, and has had to make changes at the start of both second halves (against Rwanda and Togo).

Undoubtedly, plan A has failed, the back-up plan also failed and even the back-up to the back-up was shambles.

The argument of team selection has once again formed the basis of what has failed the Cranes dreadfully.

Though, personally I trust that McKinstry and his assistants have made the decisions basing on some sort of data they collect during the different episodes of the games so far.

Uganda and McKinstry are going to have to turn to something they probably never wished (but thought at some point) they’d have to do.

They need to devise an immediate solution and hope that something rational comes from this group of talented individuals who have so far looked a collective mess.

That coming against the toughest opponent in Group C, defending champions Morocco pose its own set of questions and worries – not to mention that Morocco themselves are yet to find their best level.

Kyeyune’s scorcher and their performance especially for the final half-hour against Togo can act as the catalyst and crucial reminder of the level they need to be at.

What the immediate solution will be is hard to pin point though, but a couple of significant pointers can be drawn from the previous games.

Kyeyune probably earned himself another game with that goal and Ibrahim Orit who had a bright performance against Togo could be given an extended run in the team.

The dropping of Watambala and Mawejje’s substitution at half time suggests that perhaps nobody is safe and besides Mustafa Mujuzi and Charles Lukwago it is hard to make a strong case for anybody else.

No doubt these are some of the best players in Uganda but they need to prove and hack their way out from deep within the bush.

If they do manage to turn around the situation, it will be an admirable and remarkable achievement, a show of character and zeal within the group to go with their quality which only looks to be theoretical at this moment.

For McKinstry, it will help replenish much of the confidence that has dwindled from the masses who have started to question the direction he is leading the team.

And when he stands at the touchline before the final whistle goes on Tuesday with his side through to the quarter-finals, he will have every right to savour as the achievement.

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