With the final of the 2011 CECAFA Cup set to take place in a few hours time, lets take a look at how Uganda’s Cranes progressed into the final after a thrilling 3-1 win over hosts Tanzania.

Pre-tournament favourites, Uganda, have not been in the most convincing form of late. The Cranes’ squad for this tournament includes several players from their Kobs (Under 20’s) team, as Scottish coach, Bobby Williamson, looks to rejuvenate his senior side after their Africa Cup of Nations’ heart-break. However, a recent second place finish at the LG Cup, where the Cranes lost to Cameroon but finished ahead of the hosts, Morocco, and local rivals, Sudan, has boosted their morale.

The Cranes’ performances in the opening two games of this tournament – a 2-1 win over Zanzibar and 4-0 victory over Somalia – suggested they had carried this recent form into the CECAFA Cup. But a 1-0 loss to Burundi followed by a unconvincing 1-0 Quarter-final victory over Zimbabwe, suggests there is still work for Bobby Williamson and his coaching staff to do if they want to go all the way.

Tournament hosts, Tanzania, had qualified for the knock-out round as one of the competition’s best placed runners-up, on goal difference, thanks to a 89th minute Mwinyi Kazimoto strike against Zimbabwe that lifted the Kilimanjaro Stars ahead of Kenya in the third-place mini league.

Two losses and a win in the group stage hadn’t filled the local fans with much hope of the reigning champions reclaiming their crown, but in Mwinyi Kazimoto and Nurdin Bakari they had, at least, revealed two of the tournament’s most interesting attacking players.

Uganda Cranes’ coach, Bobby Williamson, stuck with his tried and tested 4-2-1-3 formation, with Musa Mudde expected to push on in support of their chief attacking architect, Mike Sserumaga. Sula Matovu kept his place on the left of the attack, having replaced the disappointing Mike Mutyaba in the group stages. Hamis Kiiza’s selection as the lone striker, in place of Emma Okwi, was the only change that raised the pundit’s eyebrows.

Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Stars’ coach, Charles Boniface, went for a more cautious approach; a 4-1-4-1 with Shaban Nditi screening the back four, Marisho Ngassa pushing slightly higher on the left flank and Hussein Javu as the lone striker.

There were three, key, tactical changes that influenced the game:

1) Uganda’s high attacking line, their lack of movement and passing options on the flanks

2) Bobby Williamson opens up the pitch

3) The Emma Okwi effect; movement in the central attacking third

No Width, No Penetration

Bobby Williamson excels at creating natural width to open the pitch up. He presses his wingers high up, to force the opposition full backs to retreat thus giving his full backs room to support and overlap. His side started this way yesterday. However, it was evident, from the first few minutes, that this setup was leaving Uganda’s centre backs, Andrew Mwesigwa and Godfrey Walusimbi, exposed to Tanzania’s quick and technically adept wingers, Marisho Ngassa and Nurdin Bakari.

In the seventeenth minute this exposure led to Tanzania’s opening goal. Uganda’s forward thinking full backs were caught napping in the attacking third, a quick ball over the top from Stars’ centre back, Erasto Nyoni, set off a race between the speedy Ngassa and Cranes’ centre back Andrew Mwesigwa, where there was only ever going to be one winner.

Ngassa tore past Mwesigwa and applied the finish. Ugandan goalkeeper, Abel Dhaira, made a limp attempt to prevent Ngassa run through on goal, but Uganda’s defence should not have allowed Ngassa to get 1v1 with Mwesigwa. The goal shook Uganda, particularly the full backs Isinde and Masaba, who, concerned with leaving space behind them, both dropped deeper and rarely ventured forward beyond the twentieth minute.

Uganda’s other problem was central midfielder, Musa Mudda. The Cranes rely on Musa’s forward bursts, from central midfield, to open up the pitch and give Tony Mawejje forward passing options. He failed to do this in the first hand and was, too often, caught in deep midfield areas, in spaces that Tony Mawejje should have been filling (see Diagram 1 for how a lack of width from the full backs and penetration through the mid-field left Tony Mawejje with limited forward passing options).

So, with forward passes not available to the full backs, central midfielders and wingers, Uganda struggled to sustain a periods of possession. Tanzania, to their credit, defended very well.

Opening Up The Pitch

From the start of the second half, it was clear that Bobby Williamson and his coaching team had set out to address the attacking problems his side had suffered in the first half. His full backs were encouraged to push forward again, wingers Matovu and Wagaluke invited infield and encouraged to come short to receive the ball and, crucially, Musa Mudde, began to making forward runs, opening up space for the Cranes to start their passing game.

These changes left Uganda exposed, particularly to quick balls to Ngassa and Javu. But the quality of passing from Stars’ central pairing of Kazimoto and Chombo was poor and they failed to capitalise on the space behind the full backs (See Diagram 2 for how Tony Mawejje now has four, clear,  forward passing options and space in the Tanzanian midfield line).

In the 55th minute, Cranes’ captain, Andrew Mwesigwa’s, downward header from a quickly taken corner by Isaac Isinde drew them level. The goal was well deserved aster a period of sustained possession and pressure.

The Okwi Effect

Uganda were finally level and in control. Coach, Bobby Williamson, immediately switched to a 4-2-4 formation in search of the winner. He withdrew the ineffective Hamis Kiiza and Mike Sserumaga and replaced them with Emma Okwi and Robert Ssentongo.

The Kilimanjaro Stars looked devoid of creative ideas and as Uganda piled on the pressure from the flanks the Tanzanians found it increasingly difficult to play out from the back.

The attacking combination of Ssentongo and Okwi was becoming a increasing threat for the Stars. As Uganda broke down the flanks Ssentongo drifted into deeper areas, outside the penalty area, pulling Stars’ centre back, Erasto Nyoni, out from his back-line, allowing Cranes’ Okwi to burst into the space vacated (See Diagram 3 for how the Cranes changed shape, and how the movement of their front two created the space for them to break through the Stars’ defensive line).

Into extra-time, with 102 minutes on the clock, the Cranes’ live-wire, Okwi, burst into space, between the Stars’ centre backs, to meet Wagaluke’s pin-point cross with a diving header and put Uganda in front for the first time in the game. With 8 minutes of the second period left, Okwi won the penalty, converted by Isaac Isinde, that put the icing on the cake and sent Bobby Williamson’s Uganda Cranes flying into their third CECAFA Cup final in four years.