15 October 2018

Uganda: Qualifiers - Desabre's Strikers Finally Put Best Foot Forward

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Kampala — For Lesotho's Likuena, this was a classic case of lightning striking twice. Their 2006 trip to the Mandela National Stadium in Namboole disintegrated with catastrophic results. A show-stopping performance from Geoffrey Massa yielded a brace and penalty, which David Obua cheekily put away, as the Uganda Cranes ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.

A dozen years later, with Emmanuel Okwi mirroring Massa's telling contributions in every sense of the word, Lesotho found Uganda as imposing now as ever it was. Okwi scored twice and won a penalty during Saturday's 3-0 hiding of Lesotho.

The result, which sees Uganda open up a three-point lead over Cape Verde atop Group L of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying campaign, was by no means assured. Not before Egyptian referee Amin Mohamed Omar's whistle kicked off proceedings at Namboole at least.

A goalless draw at home to Tanzania on matchday two had shot Cranes coach, Sébastien Desabre's credibility to pieces. His strikers also got a bad rap, deservedly so, after proving to be a source of unending frustration in the stalemate. Another faltering display would doubtless have seen either party face serious obstacles to its acceptance.

Moods had darkened substantially within the stadium even before a ball was kicked after Desabre opted to hand Edrisa Lubega a first start in a competitive match. The Frenchman seemed untroubled by the hostility. "When you do this job," the 42-year-old said after the match, "you always have pressure."

Ultimately, Lubega won over his doubters thanks to his boundless energy. There was a great sincerity and warmth from the Namboole crowd when the Austrian-based forward came off with 20 minutes left to play. Seven minutes earlier, the 20-year-old had purposefully run the channels before whipping in a centre that Okwi nodded home. "The third goal was always going to be important," Desabre said, adding, "Lubega did lots of runs on the wings."

Lesotho's coach Moses Maliehe was also quick to note that Uganda's front three played with an air of competence and solidarity. "They had hard-running forwards, which is always good."

Outstanding Okwi

The pick of the front three was Okwi. When the No.7 powered a shot into the onion bag in the 11th minute, it was likely, if not certain, that Lesotho would reap the whirlwind. Thirty-five minutes had been played when Okwi cut in from the right and slalomed a few challenges before being upended in the box. Up stepped Farouk Miya to dispatch the resultant penalty with aplomb.

It was now firmly an exercise of damage limitation for Likuena. They made a fist of it after the breather when a bold decision to use two strikers momentarily forced Uganda on the back foot. Maliehe further reckons the return of Bokang Sello for Tuesday's reverse fixture in Maseru will make Lesotho competitive. "Sello [who missed Saturday's match through suspension] has everything to match the guy who was playing on the right wing. He has the pace to match the No.7."

One ominous sign perhaps for Okwi. Another is that Massa, who put the Likuena to the sword in Namboole, failed spectacularly in the reverse fixture at Setsoto Stadium in 2007. Will lightning strike twice? Okwi -- and certainly Desabre -- will hope not.

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