Massa looks to strike as Cranes stalk Pharaohs
CLASS WAS in session at Stade Port-Gentil on Tuesday night when Uganda made their first Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) appearance in almost 40 years against four-time champions Ghana. The Black Stars used their experience to outsmart the Cranes, teaching Uganda a lesson about tournament football – it doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective or that you don’t need a lot of chances, just as long as you take one, get the three points and move on.
The Cranes will show what they learnt when they take on Egypt in Gabon’s financial capital tomorrow at 9pm while Ghana face Mali at 5pm on the same field.
The state of the pitch will be tested in those games. Players from all four countries complained about it after the first round, saying that it turned the matches into “beach soccer” because the grass has not properly grown and the sand underneath it sprang up.
“It was tough,” Uganda captain Geofrey Massa said. “The pitch wasn’t good and we never trained on it (before the match against Ghana). But that’s not an excuse.
“We have to now come back and win our next game, no matter what. We respected Ghana too much. We gave them too much time on the ball. That’s how we lost that game.
“We put pressure on them in the second half and that’s what we should do to Egypt. We shouldn’t respect them. When we played Ghana in Tamale (in the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers), we never gave them a chance to shoot at our goal or trouble our defence. We have learned our lesson.”
It was an emotional moment for Massa when he led Africa’s National Team of the Year out onto the field.
The 30-year-old forward wasn’t even born when the Cranes last appeared in the showpiece (39 years ago). It also feels like a lifetime ago since he last scored for the national team.
His last goal came back in 2015 which isn’t helped by his struggles in club football where he is a shadow of his former self. He has yet to find the back of the net with Premier Division rookies Baroka FC, which has led to reports that Bakgaga could release him during this transfer window period.
“As a professional player you have to look at where you benefit,” Massa said.
“You go where things are going well for you. I am happy where I am. I have to continue from there.”
What makes the campaign hard for the Cranes is that they are in a tough group. But that can only strengthen them going forward, Massa argues.
“There are a handful of players who are 30 or close to it in our team,” he said. “We have a very young squad. We have a lot of talent in the country. This tournament is just an eye-opener. After it, we will qualify regularly. I am positive that we won’t wait 39 years for our next appearance.”