Massa looks to strike as Cranes stalk Pharaohs

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

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.”

GE­OFREY MASSA

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