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AFCON: It’s time Uganda learnt to win ugly

FOOTBALL By Sammy Kitula | July 2nd 2019
Egypt's Baher El Mohamad in action with Uganda's Emmanuel Okwi at Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt on Sunday. [Reuters]

A 2-0 victory over the Uganda Cranes in their last Group A match on Sunday night ensured them a stride on to the next round with a perfect record; three wins from three matches and no goals conceded. But the Pharaohs know all too well they are yet to fire from all cylinders.

This was a tremendously casual victory after another murky play by the hosts.

Again, bar a few flashes of brilliance from Liverpool star Mohamed Salah and Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan, commonly known as Trezeguet, Egypt were extraordinarily rambling.

And their captain Ahmed El Mohamady, who was named man of the match, acknowledged as much.

“We wanted to qualify as the top team in our group and I’m happy we did with a clean sheet. However, our performance in the second half dipped. It should have been better,” he said after the match.

It would have been better for Egypt. It should have. But it didn’t. Again, it was more or less impractical to recognise their style of play.

Once more, there was little aggression from the Pharaohs and they were always caught flat-footed by the pacy Abdu Lumala from the wings.

Only that at times, it seemed that the Syrianska FC forward was extravagant with his chances and mean with his last passes.

On that taxing night for Uganda inside the unsympathetic 75,000-seater Cairo International Stadium, fans of free-flowing football were quickly reminded of how to win matches; just win ugly.

Uganda, who already know they cannot let any chance slip off their fingers as they head into the knockouts, put up another dizzying performance, but came short when it mattered most.

 In one of them, Faruku Miya sent a good effort spinning over the wall from a free-kick, but on to the roof of the net.

Uganda enjoyed more possession and caged the hosts into their own half for most of the night.

But surely, there is a different feel to this team, an extra vigorous feel and thrill after years of undependability, only that they need to learn how to win, whichever way.

“We are disappointed because we had a very good game, but missed our chances. We chose to risk and play with high strikers but the most important thing in football is goals, which we did not score,” said Ugandan coach Sebastien Desabre.

“I’m proud of my players because, in the end, we achieved our set target, which was to qualify for the knockouts.”

Egypt were poorer of the two and even their poster boy Salah was way off his best limits, yet he was still their star.

His free-kick in the 36th minute reminded any doubting Thomases, who the king of African football is.

It was another pleasing-to-the-eye-shot off that left foot.

The ball took an almost implausible flight past the four-man defensive wall before curling towards the left-hand corner of Denis Onyango’s goal.

The Mamelodi Sundowns custodian looked at it. Yes, he saw it coming, but it was another thing to stop the thunderbolt. Onyango dived to his left; hand stretched out but that was the furthest he could go…

When push comes to shove, you can always rely on this great mind; Mo Salah.

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