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Kambale influence at Express earns him Cranes call up

By Shafic Kiyaga
Express FC forward Eric Kambale | Express FC media (Amina Babirye)

Eric Kambale has had an incredible campaign for Express this season, little wonder that interim head coach Abdallah Mubiru included him on his latest Uganda Cranes squad, a first international call up for him.

Even with his nationality still hugely contested or where his allegiance lies – with stories suggesting that he was born in the neighbouring DR Congo but grew up in Kasese district in Uganda.

A Cranes call up is a huge opportunity for Kambale to make a debut for ‘his country’ in the upcoming international friendly against South Africa on June 10.

Certainly, Mubiru’s attention to Kambale comes from his indelible influence for the Red Eagles, scoring 15 goals as Express have risen from mid table wanderers to top of the StarTimes Uganda Premier League.

Kambale has had indifferent spells at the Betway Muteesa II Stadium, showing glimpses of his brilliance in his first spell in the 2018/19 season.

A hiatus from the club for the first part of the 2019/20 season saw him return more composed, going on to emerge as perhaps the most influential player for Express in the past decade as he has brought the club to within four games of a first league title in a decade.

After a run of two league goals in 14 games at the start of the season, he may have been passed as another average ‘Ronaldo fan boy’, and the imagination of a national call up was very much alien.

But 13 goals in the previous league games 12 league games including a hattrick against Kyetume in May has turned heads and added fuel to the fire that a national team call up was ripe.

Kambale’s presence on the pitch and not just his goals has been out of the ordinary in transforming Express not only in attack but also helping their defensive work by leading from the front.

It has not been all glam for Kambale, he has had his frustrating periods in the league and games where it has not really clicked for him.

He was disappointing in the opening months of the season and was really poor specifically in games against MYDA and URA FC early on in the season as Godfrey Lwesibawa and George Ssenkaaba carried the team on.

But some could argue that it took Kambale time to really grasp what Wasswa Bbosa demanded of him while they also really worked on his overall fitness and energy levels. Also, Ssenkaaba’s injury was a blessing in disguise as it saw a change in role from a wide forward to the top of the attack.

After that, all pieces fell to place. A dominant performance against Vipers SC in Kitende was followed by a stunning individual display against Onduparaka – scoring a double to help guide Express to their first ever home win over the Caterpillars.

It is not just his goals, but his overall contribution to the team’s attack, and the number of chances he creates for his teammates.

Even more impressive about Kambale is his unrelenting mentality and also the ability to stay grounded even with the whole country gripped by his form.

In a recent post-match interview, he did not take any credit, and all the talk was about how they need to keep focussed on the title even when the questions were about his goal-scoring form.

Kambale is outstanding in helping Express transition both when they lose the ball or recover possession. While defending, he is the first line of defence and usually helps apply pressure and track back in situations where they are defending a counter attack.

When applying a low block, he is comfortable in maintaining the team’s compact shape. Combined with a solid back four and an improved goalkeeper, it explains why Express is shrewder in defence. 

While clearing their lines or playing their more common long balls from Murshid Juuko or Enock Walusimbi, Kambale is capable of winning an aerial battle, and keep the ball while waiting for support to arrive and progress the attack.

All those attributes point towards a striker that Mubiru would want to work with – capable of playing within the team while he would be able of applying the orthodox centre forward attributes.

But with the national team, there are no shortage of options and Kambale will have to show he is unique from the other striker comparisons. The advice would be seizing the opportunity when it comes.

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