By Brian Homewood
CAIRO (Reuters) – Uganda showed a bold commitment to attacking football as they reached the Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages for the first time in 41 years but ultimately paid for lack of experience at the top level.
Poor finishing combined with two defensive mistakes led to their downfall in their round of 16 tie against Senegal as the Cranes lost 1-0 on Friday despite matching their opponents for long periods in an a physical clash.
Perhaps that was not surprising given the yawning gap between the two sets of players at club level.
Senegal’s starting line-up included three players from the English Premier league, two in Italy’s Serie A, one in Spain’s La Liga, three in Ligue 1 and two in the Turkish top flight.
Uganda’s, on the other hand, comprised two players based in Tanzania, one each in South Africa, Canada, Croatia, India, Uganda, the Swedish third tier, the English fifth tier and two who are unattached.
But they managed to give Senegal a run for their money and, in their previous match outplayed hosts Egypt despite going down to a 2-0 defeat.
“Lack of experience cost us this defeat,” said coach Sebastien Desabre.
“After the goal, we were better and had many chances but unfortunately Senegal were better than us. We were not far from qualification against the best side in this tournament.”
Even so, he said Uganda had made important progress since they were knocked out in the group stage two years ago.
“It was a target of the federation to get to the last 16,” he said. “We have a long way to go to organise football in Uganda and it’s important the national team shows the way.”
One of the biggest compliments came from fellow Frenchman Sebastien Migne, coach of their larger neighbours Kenya, who held Uganda up as an example to be followed after his own side went out in the group stage.
Desabre, coach since December 2017, is himself little known in his native France. He only played football semi-professionally and abandoned his career at 26 to concentrate on coaching.
The road to the Uganda led via clubs in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt and he described taking Uganda to the AFCON as the “high point of my career so far”.
Some of his players, meanwhile, have set their sights even higher.
“We came and made it to the round of 16 which was our main target,” said Allan Kateregga. “Our next focus is the World Cup — we want to go to the World Cup.”
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, Editing by Ed Osmond)