AFCON 2017 is in full swing, as Day 4 of the continental showcase came to an end. On a humid, Tuesday evening, the Stade de Port-Gentil played host to group D -in the last of the first round of fixtures. In the first match of the night, Uganda made their long awaited return to Africa’s showpiece but suffered defeat at the hands of Avram Grant’s Black Stars, giving them the early advantage as Mali and Egypt played to goalless stalemate.
Going into the game, Uganda had hoped to pull off a monumental upset, however, from the outset the Cranes struggled to find any fluidity in their movement. They often just fell back on the long ball being hoofed up to Geoffrey Massa as Ghana pressed. For the Black Stars, Christian Atsu dazzled the Ugandan defence and orchestrated most of his team’s attacks.
In a game bereft of many clear cut opportunities, Uganda were eventually left to rue their own mistakes as defender Isaac Isinde failed to control a pass in his own box. In an attempt to rectify his error Isinde pulled down Ghanaian captain Asamoah Gyan for a soft penalty. Up stepped Andre Ayew who calmly slotted his penalty past Dennis Onyango. Arguably Uganda’s best chance came just before the break as talisman Farouk Miya was played through, but he could only shoot narrowly wide of the near post.
In the second half Uganda began brightly but failed to create anything of substance. The introduction of teenager Muhammad Shaban did add extra attacking impetus as The Cranes pressed for an equaliser as time began to run out. Uganda ended up playing with three strikers towards the dying minutes of the game but the Ghanaian defence held firm. Atsu did have a chance late on, doing well to control a ball played over the top but his strike drew an excellent save by Onyango at his near post.
In the second game of the night, Egypt made a return to continent’s football showpiece after an absence of seven years. However, they could not penetrate a resolute Malian defence. It was a game of very few chances that won’t make it onto the highlights reel of any but the most ardent of fans. One point that did trouble the record books was the introduction of 44-year-old Egyptian legendary goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary. He came on after Ahmed El- Shenawy had injured himself making the only significant save of the match. El-Hadary is now the oldest player to ever step onto the pitch in the Africa Cup of Nations finals. And he showed he still has life in those old legs as he denied Mali a goal in a one-on-one situation by rushing smartly off his line late on.
Ahmed El- Shenawy