New-look, young Uganda begin life after Denis Onyango against Bafana

10 June 2021 - 15:27
By Marc Strydom
Mamelodi Sundowns' veteran goalkeeper Denis Onyango has retired from international football for Uganda, who meet Bafana Bafana on Thursday night. File photo
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images Mamelodi Sundowns' veteran goalkeeper Denis Onyango has retired from international football for Uganda, who meet Bafana Bafana on Thursday night. File photo

Uganda will begin life without recently retired goalkeeping giant Denis Onyango, of Mamelodi Sundowns, when they meet Bafana Bafana at Orlando Stadium on Thursday evening.

The friendly (kickoff 6pm) marks the beginning of a new era for both teams. SA begin life under new technical staff, though new head coach Hugo Broos will not attend the game as he is receiving his Covid-19 vaccination in native Belgium.

With one of the new assistants, Belgian-Macedonian Cedomir Janevski, having contracted Covid-19 this week, that leaves the other, Bafana legend Helman Mkhalele, to take charge of the match in a rocky start to a new era.

Uganda coach Abdallah Mubiru has named a young team to face Bafana, including five teenagers, as he also begins a rebuilding process.

Chippa United’s 26-year-old Ismael Watenga – tipped as the natural successor to Onyango – is expected to be between the posts on Thursday evening.

Onyango has been a huge part of Uganda’s resurgence in recent years. His retirement from the Cranes in April was followed by a further blow when two other stalwarts of the Cranes also announced they would be ending their international careers.

The retirements of Onyango, 33-year-old Saudi Arabia-based midfielder Hassan Wasswa and 33-year-old Mexico-based midfielder Micheal Azira all came to light in the space of a few days in April.

Onyango was the largest presence of the stalwarts when Uganda qualified for their first Africa Cup of Nations in 39 years, reaching the 2017 tournament in Gabon.

In 2016, when Onyango won the Champions League with Sundowns, the keeper was Caf's African-based Player of the Year.

Onyango’s SA representative, Ivica Stankovic, posted the news of the Cranes goalkeeping legend’s international retirement on Facebook on April 12, saying: “Onyango – who turns 35 next month – will concentrate on his club career at Mamelodi Sundowns.”

In response, and as part of rebuilding, Mubiru named five teenagers from Uganda’s Under-20 team - Aziz Kayondo, Bobosi Byaruhanga, Isma Mugulusi, Steven Sserwadda, and Derrick Kakooza – in his squad to travel to SA.

The five were part of Uganda’s Hippos who reached the final of the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations in Mauritania in March, losing 2-0 against Ghana.

SA, hit by the withdrawals of six key players – Percy Tau, Teboho Mokoena, Sipho Mbule, Rivaldo Coetzee, Mosa Lebusa and Mothobi Mvala – through Covid-19 and injuries, will find it a challenge to beat the Cranes.

Uganda, like Bafana, failed to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and will use Thursday’s match as part of their preparations for the start of the group stage of 2022 World Cup qualifiers in September.