Port-Gentil — So near yet so far. Uganda Cranes felt that again, something familiar with most of the previous Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaigns before 2017.
Every qualifying campaign for a large part of the last 11 years came down to a goal, goal difference, a point or an away result.
Then in qualifying for the 2017 edition, the 31st of the biennial tournament, Uganda cracked the code with victories in Botswana and Comoros.
The celebrated return to the Nations Cup for the 39 years was perhaps sealed way before Faruku Miya scored the lone goal last September against Comoros.
As Uganda play the final group game in Oyem on Wednesday against Mali, it must have felt like those failed qualification campaigns.
The margin between Uganda standing a chance of making the last eight and becoming the first team to exit were razor thin.
First, defender Isaac Isinde failed to control a routine pass then pulled down an advancing Asamoah Gyan to give away a penalty that Ghana converted for 1-0.
Otherwise, Uganda, despite two brilliant saves from Africa's best goalkeeper Denis Onyango, had not been outplayed.
Their second half display, despite lacking in clear-cut chances was encouraging and all that Cranes needed was a little more conviction in the final third. Fast forward to Saturday, Cranes pushed old nemesis Egypt all the way only for cruelty as Abdullah El-Said struck to dump out at the Stade Port-Gentil.
Two goals is all it took for two sides that share 11 African titles to seal Uganda's fate and dampen the mood.
The autopsy for coach Micho Sredojevic, if he stays long after this, will be longer than those second when his team paid for minor lapses in concentration.
However, you could clearly tell, there wasn't a gulf. These aren't the 90s when Egypt beat Uganda 6-0.
Also, Ghana are chasing a sixth successive semi-final appearance at this level while Cranes have only emerged from fresh womb.
Micho attributed some of the team's inadequacies on stage fright after the Ghana defeat. Yes, he is right.
The players will know it is even deeper. The manner in which the two aristocrats handled themselves in both games mirrored fine surgeons.
Producing a good surgeon takes as much time as closing this margin.
You must keep asking yourself; what if Isinde had stabbed that ball away?
What if Joseph Ochaya had tracked El-Said? How was Godfrey Walusimbi caught out of position? Why did Nicholas Wadada give the ball away against one of the best counter-attacking sides? Then, the entire team drifted to the right, how?
While Cranes have not played well enough to deserve six points, or even four, Micho's side seemed to deserve at least one from a fruitless 180 minutes.