24 January 2017

Uganda/Mali: Cranes Play for Pride in Final Match With Mali

Photo: Ismail Kezaala /Daily Monitor
Aucho pursues the ball during Cranes’ game against Kenya.

Uganda will be playing for pride but Mali in the faint hope that they may still win a place in the quarterfinals of the African Nations Cup as the teams clash in a final Group D encounter in Oyem on Wednesday.

The Cranes, making a return to the continental showpiece for the first time in 39 years, were the first side eliminated from the finals after defeats to Ghana and Egypt, both by 1-0 scorelines.

They showed flashes of potential in both those games but find themselves playing for pride against the Maliens, having not quite had the quality to grab a point.

For Mali the scenario is clear – they have to win and at the same time hope that pool leaders Ghana get the better of second-placed Egypt.

If they do that, both sides will finish on four points and, having drawn 0-0 earlier in the pool campaign, will not be separated by head-to-head. That will take the tie-breaker to goal-difference, which will favour Mali.

And so their destiny is not in their own hands. Nevertheless coach Alain Giresse will charge his side with concentrating on what they can control – winning against Uganda.

“The players are disappointed, but we are not completely knocked out,” Giresse told reporters. “They will be ready to raise their heads for the last game.”

What will worry the French coach is that his side have not managed a goal, nor unduly threatened the opposition, in their opening two games, though they should find Uganda a softer touch.

The Cranes coach, Micho Sredojevic, faces an uncertain future after these finals, having been named as a prospect for coach of the South African national team and head coach of that country's Orlando Pirates club.

He was philosophical over Uganda's early exit.

“I want to thank my players who gave their best and made their people proud. We came here to play three finals, we lost to Ghana by a penalty, lost to Egypt in the last minute and our ambition is to win against Mali and return home with pride,” he said.

Pride will only come with a win against Mali, a feat that would likely signal Uganda's campaign in Gabon as a success. Just to be back at the continent’s biggest show after nearly four decades was an achievement, so to win a game against a worthy opponent would make the experience all the more enjoyable.

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