Considerable disappointment as Uganda exits the African Nations Championship (CHAN) at the group stages again. Early analytics however point to a number of areas of growing strength as well as some weaknesses still to be addressed. (29 Jan 2021).
The Uganda home-based national team will return to Kampala disappointed and frustrated following their earlier than hoped exit from the CAF Nations Championship (CHAN) 2020 in Cameroon. Elimination at the group stage of CHAN 2020 means that Uganda have again replicated their performance from the previous 4 CHAN tournaments.
The CAF Nations Championship (CHAN)
The CAF Nations Championship exists to showcase and develop home-based players. Only those who play in the domestic leagues in their home countries can participate.
Therefore, unlike full international ‘A’ team tournaments, it reflects relative standards of football within each country – and affords insights and lessons which can be used to improve the level of football in each home nation and in domestic leagues.
The success of Uganda at the pre-CHAN mini tournament (where Uganda posted the best overall performance) and periods of quality in their 3 CHAN group matches is tempered by the continuation of the trend of exiting CHAN at the group stages.
While there will be considerable disappointment for the Head Coach, technical staff, and players, the tournament has already provided important insights into areas of growing strength to be built upon and some weaknesses still to be addressed.
While passions will run high at the earlier than hoped for departure, the use of objective data and analytics will form a key part of the technical team's analysis and response over the coming days and weeks.
These lessons will be of particular importance as Uganda fielded one of the youngest home-based squads of players at CHAN (with an average age of only 23, compared to some teams whose age averaged above 27 years). Transfers abroad following recent successes at CECAFA 2019, and some injuries meant several players from CHAN qualifiers were no longer eligible for selection (Mustafa Kizza, John Revita, Alan Okello, David Owori, Fahad Bayo, Joel Madondo) and so a wider group of home-based players were afforded the opportunity to step up to international level.
Given the relative youth of the squad, lessons learnt from CHAN 2020 have the potential to impact for a generation and will be of particular importance as Uganda moves to develop more home-grown talent and oversee its integration into the Senior ‘A’ National Team.
Initial Data and Trends
Initial data from global football analytics platform 'WyScout' ranked Uganda's home-based team highly in several areas across all teams in the group stage of CHAN. For example, of the 16 teams in the group stages, WyScout analytics placed Uganda best of all the teams for ‘Average Match Tempo’ and ‘Progressive Passes’; and in the top 4 for ‘Ball Possession’, ‘Passes’, ‘Forward Passes’, ‘Passes to Final Third’, and lowest of all teams for ‘Average Losses of Possession’.
WYSCOUT ANALYTICS on UGANDA
Beyond these strengths, the early analytics also points to some areas of weaknesses to address – including with regards to final ball delivery into the penalty area and finishing. Clearly the loss of Uganda’s primary striker Milton Karisa (who had scored 3 and assisted 1 in the pre-CHAN tournament) in the opening minutes of the first game of the CHAN tournament will have had an impact in this regard, but none the less it will need to remain a key focus for the coaching staff in the development of this group of players.
Defensively there will also be an importance placed on key decision making as a number of goals conceded in games against Togo and Morocco can be attributed to poor decisions under pressure or reaction time to certain situations. Mishaps in both of these areas being significantly more punishable at international level than many of the players are used to at UPL level.
Early Analysis and observations
Asked to comment, Coach McKinstry said:
“We are all very disappointed that we were unable to convert some very positive play into the goals and results that we desired. In the end, penalties not awarded and balls cleared from opposition goal lines are not enough. As a technical staff, we could see a lot of positives from this young group of players who consistently strived to play the brand of passing football that everyone in Uganda craves - however while our passing statistics are generally good, there can be no denying the fact that there is still work to do in the final third, where despite some good build-up play we simply didn’t do enough to create and convert chances in and around the penalty box. Adding this piece will help to convert positive play into firm results and give us a very strong product on the pitch. With guidance, the promising talent of these still young boys will develop into more complete performances in the years to come”
When asked about his view at the other end of the field, Coach McKinstry replied:
“When we do not make full use of the build-up and chances we create in the final third of the pitch, it will naturally put pressure on our defensive side of the game. At times, this worked as we would hope - but at other times it was clear that the intensity of the games at this level, combined with the pressure of the environment led to errors creeping in from time to time. This is the responsibility of the whole team. Both in terms of defending as a unit, but also to ensure when we have the ball, and when we are making positive moves in possession, that we complete the picture by converting our own chances in the attacking areas of the field”
Coach McKinstry concluded:
“Emotions are high and people are disappointed. The feeling of having given everything and come up short is a bitter one, but the experience of CHAN will help this group of players grow and develop. Objectively however, independent analytics shows we are developing and increasingly delivering in key areas but with a few key challenges still to address”
“The focus on gradually integrating a new generation of talent breaking through from the Ugandan Premier League into a squad with the more established players who had served Uganda well in qualification in 2017 and 2019 reflects the desire of the Federation to ensure the long term development and success of the team. CHAN provides an important opportunity for up and coming players to experience the intensity of international level football. Enabling our players to gain this experience at such an early age will shape their development and progression and ultimately the standard of players in the UPL and in the national teams. Given what we have seen from several players over these past weeks, we believe the future is bright for Ugandan football and that a number of these boys will build on this experience to push themselves into contention for the senior national team in the years to come.”
In closing, Coach McKinstry sought to speak to Uganda Cranes fans directly:
"We know everyone is disappointed at this moment. We set a high bar for ourselves, and when we fail to achieve those targets we all hurt. But rest assured everyone from the management, to the technical team and players are committed to raising the flag of Uganda high. We are all extremely proud to represent the nation on a global stage, and will continue to strive for perfection on a daily basis"
The focus for Uganda must however now also turn to the upcoming AFCON 2021 qualification in March and the Senior 'A' National team games against Burkina Faso (Home) and Malawi (Away). Under Coach McKinstry, Uganda currently sit in 2nd place in Group B, one point behind group leaders Burkina Faso and three points ahead of Malawi. The top two teams in each group will qualify for the Final AFCON tournament to be held in January 2022.
On AFCON 2021 qualifiers, Coach McKinstry said:
“We have already begun our preparations for the upcoming AFCON 2021 qualifications games in March. We sit second in the group and given the positive and determined mindset amongst the senior national team players at present, I expect Uganda to not only perform at our best but also qualify for AFCON in our March games.”
Notes to Editors
- Since taking up his role with Uganda in October 2019, Coach McKinstry has now overseen 18 matches - winning 12 (67%), drawing 3 (17%) and losing 3 (17%); scoring 30 goals and conceding 11. Despite the impacts associated with COVID-19, this compares very favourably to the previous 18 games before Coach McKinstry’s appointment where Uganda won 6 (33%), drew 5 (28%) and lost 7 (39%), with 15 goals scored and 15 goals conceded.
- Considering the performance of the senior ‘A’ team only, Coach McKinstry has overseen 5 games to date, winning 3 (60%), drawing 1 (20%) and losing 1 (20%), only conceding 1 goal.