Uganda Cranes' campaign in the African Cup of Nations after 39 years ended after they were beaten 1-0 by Egypt on Saturday.
They become the first team to exit the continental bonanza. The Pharaohs struck late in the 88th minute through Abdallah El Said, handing Uganda their second identical loss of the tournament.
The Cranes had put up a spirited fight, a much better performance than their opening day loss to Ghana’s Black Stars. But their fight and determination went up in smoke with a late goal from a counter attack.
“I am proud of my players because today we showed good character in our game. We lost because of an experienced Egypt side which knew when to strike but for us, we bow out better. We have so much to learn from this tournament,” Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic, the Uganda Cranes Serbian coach said after the game.
He added; “We play Mali in our last group match and our mission remains the same, to go out of this tournament with pride and honor by giving our best.”
Ghana had earlier on progressed to the quarter finals after beating Mali 1-0 courtesy of an Asamoah Gyan first half goal.
Heading into the final group games, Egypt who have four points face off with leaders Ghana while Mali play Uganda.
The Pharaohs who return to the Nations Cup for the first time since 2010 will need at least a point to assure themselves of a quarter final slot. A win will hoist them to the apex of the group. Mali’s chances will fully rely on the results in the Ghana, Egypt match and they should beat Uganda.
The Cranes will feel aggrieved they did not get even a point as it would have handed them an outside chance heading into the final group matches.
Sredojevic made three changes
Coach Sredojevic had made three changes to the team that played against Ghana, former Gor Mahia midfielder Khalid Aucho slotting in midfield in place of Mike Azira, Gor’s Godfrey Walusimbi also came in at left back while Murushid Juuko started in defense ahead of the erratic Isaac Isinde.
Egypt brought in 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary and Stoke City winger Ramadan Sobhi into their starting line-up.
The Egyptians started the match well and danger man Mohammed Salah had the first chance with a shot that drifted wide on the far post.
Egypt struggled to give command of the game against a Uganda side who were effective especially in midfield.
Aucho’s presence gave Tony Mawejje more freedom upfront, but they could not threaten much in El Hadary’s territory. The closest they got was a Farouk Miya shot which went wide.
In the second half, Uganda thought they had a historic goal through Joseph Ochaya, but the Kampala City Council Authority man’s goal was ruled offside.
Minutes later, El Hadary had to palm away a dangerous Walusimbi free-kick which had curled into the area desperate for a touch.
With the game seemingly headed for a drab stalemate, Uganda were caught on the counter. Salah picked the ball inside the box, dummied a shot then fed off El Said who struck fiercely between Dennis Onyango’s feet.
Earlier on, Ghana progressed, but it was not on so much fun fare. They never put in much especially in the second half, when Mali came up with a spirited fight that could however not yield a goal.
Avram Grant, Ghana’s Israeli coach was visibly agitated when asked about his side’s poor second half performance, which mirrored their show against Uganda in the first match.
“I don’t understand. We won the match with a clean sheet and we have qualified for the quarter finals. In tournaments you need to be winning games and that is what we did today,” the former Chelsea FC manager told the press.
Both teams struggled to stamp their authority in the game, much because of the poor state of the playing surface at Port Gentil.
Ghana though had the lion’s share of first half chances. Andre Ayew took the ball right under the nose of his younger brother Jordan from a Christian Atsu cross and fired wide with the younger of the Abedi Pele sons being in a better position to score.
Nevertheless, Grant’s men were ahead before the midway point in the first period as Jordan Ayew crossed from the right and captain Gyan rose unmarked to powerfully head past Oumar Sissoko in the Mali goal.
Tribute to injured Rahman
The Ghana players celebrated the goal by paying tribute to team mate Baba Rahman who left the tournament after suffering a serious knee injury.
After the break, it was Mali who gave the Ghanaians a run for their money. The introduction of youngster Yves Bissouma added the spice for the Malian Eagles with his speed and trickery on the ball.
Mali had chances with Moussa Marega heading straight at the Ghanaian keeper Razak Brimah from a Bakary Sako cross.
Salif Coulibaly also had a chance, shooting wide after Ghana had struggled to clear their lines. Razak Brimah, the Ghanaian keeper had a busy end to the match as he single handedly kept his side in play.
He did well to palm away a Kalifa Coulibaly effort in the 90th minute before saving another effort from Crystal palace winger Bakary Sako in added time.