The Uganda Cranes defeated Rwanda 1-0 in their Group E qualifier at the Nyamirambo Stadium in Kigali on Thursday. Fahad Bayo scored the only goal.
It was the Cranes’ first win under new head coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic, who came over in August, and their first win over opponents in their home territory.
The Cranes had also not won a game in any competition since defeating Niger in the build-up to the African Nations Championship in January 2021, and the celebrations at the final whistle demonstrated how important it was to the players and coaching staff.
Bayo’s goal was the Cranes’ first in five qualifiers (AFCON and World Cup), as well as the first in the 2022 World Cup qualifications, after both of their first two games ended in draws.
Micho’s troops had a difficult first 40 minutes of the game, as the Rwandan Amavubi Stars pushed them back into their half.
The Cranes were able to strangle their opponents in the midfield, forcing them to play through the flanks, where they were less effective, thanks to Micho’s deployment of three holding midfielders.
Rwanda was able to move through Uganda’s compact defensive set up on several occasions, and came close to taking the lead in the 22nd minute, but Isaac Muleme was alert to clear the ball off the line.
For much of the first half, the Amavubi Stars enjoyed more possession of the ball than the Cranes, who struggled to break out from their defensive zones and looked fragmented.
The Cranes were not guaranteed an easy game against Rwanda in Kigali, and they did an admirable job of sticking to their assignment, taking the lead against the run of play in the 40th minute.
After Muleme’s free kick rattled off the post, Bayo, who was beginning only his second game for the Cranes and first since March 2021, was ideally placed to pounce from close range.
In the second half, Rwanda continued to enjoy more possession, but their extended stretches of control had little effect on the Cranes, who had better counter-attacking opportunities to extend their lead.
Moses Waiswa beat his marker but failed to pick out the right pass as his audacious effort from a tight angle went into the side net. Steven Mukwala failed to make clean contact with Muleme’s cross yards in front of goal, while Moses Waiswa beat his marker but failed to pick out the right pass as his audacious effort from a tight angle went into the side net.
Muleme walked off with a muscular injury midway through the second half, forcing Micho to make a substitute, with Aziiz Kayondo replacing him, and Julius Poloto making his senior debut.
Cromwell Rwothomio, a URA striker, made his debut after replacing Bayo, who was stretchered off with a hamstring injury, and Martin Kizza and Yunus Ssentamu were also given a chance late on.
Former Police FC defender Denis Rukundo, who grew up in Uganda but switched allegiance to Rwanda in June 2021, reconnected with old friends.
Uganda has improved their prospects of qualifying by momentarily taking the lead in Group E with five points, one point ahead of Mali, who plays Kenya on Friday.
When the Cranes host Rwanda at St. Mary’s Stadium in Kitende on Sunday, they will be looking to make it two wins in a row over their South Western neighbors.
Charles Lukwago (GK), Denis Iguma, Isaac Muleme, Enock Walusimbi, Timothy Awanyi, Khalid Aucho (C), Taddeo Lwanga, Bobosi Byaruhanga, Moses Waiswa, Azizi Fahad Bayo, Steven Mukwala, Uganda Cranes XI: Charles Lukwago (GK), Denis Iguma, Isaac Muleme, Enock Walusimbi,
Subs: Innocent Wafula, Aziiz Kayondo, Mustafa Kiiza, Livingstone Mulondo, Geofrey Wasswa, Najib Fesali, Shafik Kagimu, Julius Poloto, Ibrahim Orit, Martin Kizza, Cromwell Rwothomio, Yunus Sentamu