Uganda Cranes will face Botswana in a Group G match of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Botswana without two crucial players: Khalid Aucho and striker Rogers Mato.

The match is slated to take place at the Mandela National Stadium, Namboole on Friday evening.

The absence of the two foreign based players was confirmed by Uganda Cranes’ coach, Paul Put, during a pre-match press conference held on Thursday morning at the FUFA headquarters in Mengo.

He said Aucho is sidelined due to injury, while Mato faced travel delays and will arrive in the country only a few hours before the match, which Put believes makes it impossible for him to participate. But, despite their absence on the field, both players will be present in the stands to support their teammates.

These absences add to the earlier announcement that defender Bavis Mugabi will not be available for the game. Aucho and Mato’s absence leaves a significant gap in the squad, given their recent impact on the team.

Aucho has been a linchpin in the midfield, providing stability and support for the younger players. His experience has been invaluable, both in defense and attack most especially at a time when he has been playing with young players.  

It is against this background that Coach Put, despite being uncertain about Aucho’s availability, included him in the squad to boost the morale of the young players, many of whom are new to the national team.  

For Mato, he has emerged as a rising star for the Cranes over the last three years. The former KCCA FC player scored the last Cranes goal in this World Cup qualifying campaign that eventually helped the Cranes pick the only they have against Somalia.  

The issue of Uganda Cranes struggling to score is not new and therefore missing a player like Mato who contributes to goal-scoring opportunities compounds this challenge which is something Cranes fanatics must worry about as they hope to defeat Botswana and continue dreaming of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.

Coach Put, however, sees a silver lining in this situation. He believes the absence of key players offers an opportunity for others in the squad to step up and demonstrate their capabilities.  

In Aucho’s absence, former Vipers midfielder Bobosi Byaruhanga, who joined the camp late and has only had one training session with the team, is likely to step in. Alternatively, SC Villa’s Ronald Ssekiganda or KCCA FC’s Joel Sserunjogi could be called upon.  

To replace Mato, Put has several options, including Kitara FC’s in-form striker Denis Omedi, KCCA FC’s Shaban Muhammad, Fahad Bayo, SC Villa’s Patrick Kakande and Umar Lutalo, and Vipers SC’s Allan Okello. The formation Put will use to maximize these players’ potential remains to be seen.  

Despite the challenges, the Cranes are buoyed by their return to Namboole Stadium. Aucho believes that the home advantage will be a significant factor in their performance.

“As long as the fans are there to cheer us out, we shall fight, because other games were difficult. After all, we played them away from home. But this is home, and i believe it is going to give us motivation because we shall be seeing our fans packing the stadium,” said Aucho.

The last game played at this venue was in November 2019, before it was blacklisted by the continental soccer governing body for being substandard. This moment is therefore eagerly anticipated by many football supporters as a “coming back home” for the Cranes.  

Currently, Uganda Cranes are in the fourth position in Group G with three points having won one game against Somalia and lost one to Guinea. The Cranes are trailing group leaders Algeria who have six points. Botswana and Guinea, holding the second and third positions respectively, also have three points each. Mozambique and Somalia round out the group.

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