Uganda Cranes will enter its clash with Niger in the second crucial game of the 2023 TotalEnergies Africa Cup on Nations qualifiers tomorrow at St. Mary’s stadium in Kitende with pressure due to the loss to Algeria over the weekend.

While Uganda Cranes suffered a 2-0 loss to Algeria, Niger managed to play a one-all draw with Tanzania in their opening fixture. Uganda Cranes had a few attempts at the opponent’s goal as they were outplayed by Algeria.

Uganda Cranes Captain Emmanuel Okwi addressing reporters on Tuesday

The Uganda Cranes striker, Emmanual Okwi, says that they are feeling the burden on their shoulders and are fighting hard to create chances and as well score goals to boost the team.

“Anytime as strikers, we feel the pressure always when goals are not coming, but that is something you need to work on every day, train and be ready for the action because the nation will always demand the goals so we just need to put pressure on our shoulders and concentrate on the work that is at hand,” Okwi said.

He told journalists at a press briefing at Fufa House in Mengo Tuesday morning that they are going to make sure they look for the goals to help the team get three points.

Uganda Cranes returned to Kampala Monday for their final preparations before the game and will conduct their final training session at St. Mary’s stadium in Kitende this evening. Opponents Niger are already in the country for the match.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference, Milutin Sredojevic alias Micho said that despite losing their opener, his side picked several lessons from the two-time African champions considering the quality of players in Algeria. He believes they will capitalize on these lessons to make amends in the Niger clash.

While several Ugandans criticized the tactician’s choice of players, the coach said he chose players who proved more fit than the rest during the build-up games they held before the game.

Uganda Cranes Coach Micho and team Captain Emmanuel Okwi at FUFA House Mengo.

Among the players that drew criticism was Farouk Miya who missed a penalty. Miya who had not played competitive football since departing Ukraine had just signed for Ukrainian Premier League outfits FC Lviv. But Micho says the player was fit for the game.

What is at stake?

As it stands now, Uganda is sitting at the bottom of Group F with no point. Uganda will be seeking their first win in the qualifiers if they are to move a place ahead as they wait for the result from Algeria/Tanzania game.

According to the available statistics, Uganda has played fewer games against Niger, and the most recent competitive match the two sides engaged in was the AFCON qualifier game where Uganda defeated Niger 3-1 at the Mandela National Stadium, Namboole in 2018.

What should be done?

Mujib Kasule, a former Uganda Cranes player and now a CAF instructor notes that Uganda’s first priority should be securing wins in their home fixtures and building from there.

Although Uganda is yet to return to the Mandela National Stadium, Namboole which is undergoing renovation, Kasule says players must embrace the St. Mary’s Stadium if they are to secure positive home results in their quest to return to the continental showpiece.

Mike Mutebi, the former Uganda Cranes coach, says the technical bench should approach the game in a more attacking style if they are to secure any positive result, adding that Uganda got quality players who can play a more attack-minded approach.

Micho is often times criticized for using a more defensive approach in his style of play but he explained that Uganda was playing against a more experienced team, which explains the approach of the game.

“When you play in North Africa, and it has been a tradition when you are playing against the high experience and technically gifted players, you need to limit the time and space on the pitch,” Micho said.

Also, Mujib Kasule says it does matter, which approach the coach uses as long as the team secures a victory.

Unfortunately, Uganda might miss the services of star striker Fahad Bayo, who was reportedly out due to travel documents, Bayo did not take part in the Algerian clash because of the same issue. Micho says they are yet to confirm whether he will be part of the team.

For the first time since COVID-19 started, Uganda Cranes will play with fans gathered in the stadium to cheer the players as they tussle it out with Niger.

Uganda Cranes is in the quest to return to the biggest African football tournament after missing out on the 2021 edition.

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