Following their recent triumph in the regional Cecafa championship, Uganda’s national women team, the Crested Cranes, have high spirits as they prepare to return to the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) Finals after two decades.
The Uganda Crested Cranes and Burundi (whom the Cranes beat 3-1 to claim the CECAFA title earlier this month) are the only teams from the East and Central Africa region that will compete at this year’s WAFCON Finals due in Morocco next month.
It’s worth noting that the Crested Cranes last played at the WAFCON Finals way back in 2000; therefore, their participation in Morocco has drawn both optimism and pessimism.
First, there’s optimism because of the team’s consistent performance in major regional tournaments and qualifiers for continent and world events in recent years.
Team coach George Lutalo is confident his players (majority of them have played together for many years before graduating to the senior side from under age teams) will make a mark at the WAFCON tourney.
“My players have developed very good chemistry on the pitch over the years and I believe it’s time to show Africa what we have been working on,” Lutalo said in an interview on Monday, June 20 after a training session at Quality school grounds in Kisaasi where the Crested Cranes are camping.
He also noted that their preparations have been well facilitated by local governing body, FUFA. “Everybody in camp is happy and working for the best,” he stated.
A deadly goal-scoring trio of Fazila Ikwaput, Fauzia Najjemba and Sandra Nabweteme will lead Lutalo’s side in the group phase where they face Senegal, Burkina Faso and hosts Morocco.
Going into the WAFCON Finals, Ikwaput has scored a dozen important goals in the qualifiers. Her excellent showing at CECAFA championship should be a tip of the iceberg, says FUFA spokesman Ahmed Hussein Marsha.
“She has already proved her prowess in front of goal and there’s better stage for her to do it than the WAFCON,” Marsha said.
He said the Crested Cranes final squad, released on Tuesday, June 21, flies out Wednesday for a 10-day training camp in Marrakesh, Morocco. The squad includes goalkeepers Ruth Aturo (Katkan Tyovaen Palloillija FC, Finland), Vanessa Edith Karungi (B93, Denmark), Daisy Nakaziro(Uganda Martyrs H/S Lubaga, Uganda); defenders Asia Nakibuuka (Kawempe Muslim LFC, Uganda), Sumaya Komuntale (Tooro Queens FC,Uganda), Yudaya Nakayenze (Lindey Wilson College, USA), Aisha Nantongo (Kawempe Muslim LFC, Uganda), Margret Namirimu (She Corporate FC, Uganda), Bira Nadunga (Olila High School, WFC, Uganda), Lukia Namubiru (Kampala Queens FC, Uganda)
The midfielders are Hasifah Nassuna (UCU Lady Cardinals FC,Uganda), Joan Nabirye (Vihiga Queens, Kenya), Phionah Nabbumba(She Corporate FC, Uganda), Riticia Nabbosa (Lady Doves FC, Uganda), Shamirah Nalugya (Kampala Queens, Uganda), Sheeba Zalwango (FC Amani, DR Congo) and Tracy Jones Akiror (AFC Ann Arbor)
While the forwards include Viola Nambi (FC Dornbirn Ladies, Austria), Sandra Nabweteme (Unattached), Fazila Ikwaput (Lady Doves FC, Uganda), Ritah Kivumbi (Mallbackens IF, Sweden), Fauzia Najjemba (BIIK Shymkent, Kazakhstan), Joanita Ainembabazi (Rines SS WFC, Uganda), Lillian Mutuuzo (Kampala Queens FC, Uganda), Margret Kunihira (Kampala Queens, Uganda) and Zaina Nandede (Kampala Queens, Uganda).
The Crested Cranes open the tournament against Senegal on July 3 before playing hosts Morocco on July 5. They will wind up the group phase against Burkina Faso.
For a record, the Crested Cranes will seek a better performance than the last appearance at the WAFCON Finals where they did not go past the group phase.