Ea­gles eye goals to soar over Cranes

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJABULO NGIDI

OYEM, Gabon: Bakary Sako has de­scribed the pitch at Stade de Port-Gen­til as “hor­ren­dous” and “aw­ful”, which is why he must have wel­comed Mali mov­ing to Oyem for their last Af­con group match against Uganda tonight.

The Ea­gles and Ghana had to warm-up in­doors to pre­serve the sta­dium’s pitch be­fore their clash.

The grass hasn’t prop­erly set­tled, with the sand-like foun­da­tion be­ing eas­ily ex­posed. That sand makes play­ers ex­ert them­selves even more with ev­ery run they make.

The Black Stars have played the con­di­tions bet­ter than any team in Group D. They qual­i­fied for the quar­ter-finals with a game to spare as they re­sorted to play­ing long balls.

Mali in­sisted on play­ing their ex­pan­sive brand of football de­spite con­di­tions not al­low­ing it and some­how they made it work.

Their big­gest prob­lem is find­ing the back of the net.

Tonight, on a bet­ter pitch in Oyem, the Ea­gles need to beat the Cranes by a three­goal mar­gin and hope Ghana do them a favour by beat­ing Egypt.

Scor­ing three or more goals is a tough ask for a team yet to find the back of the net at this tour­na­ment.

“We should press Uganda from the start,” Sako said. “We have watched them. If we press, they will even­tu­ally give in.

“We dom­i­nate most of our games and win a lot of sec­ond balls.

“We need to im­prove as far as scor­ing goals is con­cerned. Uganda have done okay in their games against Ghana and Egypt, but ev­ery game in this tour­na­ment is tough.

“We have to im­prove our per­for­mance in the fi­nal third. We cre­ate enough chances to win our games but don’t take them.”

The in­tro­duc­tion of Yves Bis­souma in the sec­ond half sees the Ea­gles’ at­tack add an ex­tra spring in their step. His skill and pace trou­bled Ghana and Egypt.

Mali need to start play­ing like that from the out­set if they are to get the goals they need to make it to the last eight.

Uganda’s in­ex­pe­ri­enced de­fence tends to have lapses of con­cen­tra­tion. Their two losses came as a re­sult of that.

Isaac Isinde con­ceded a need­less penalty against Ghana after he was caught out of po­si­tion and eas­ily lost the ball to Asamoah Gyan. He was too ea­ger to make up for that and ended up foul­ing the Ghana­ian cap­tain in­side the box.

Against Egypt, Uganda opened up in­stead of look­ing to steal a point from the sev­en­time African cham­pi­ons.

Ab­dal­lah El-Said broke Uganda’s hearts in the 89th minute with his goal that sent the Cranes pack­ing in their first Africa Cup of Na­tions out­ing in al­most 40 years.

This Mali side are try­ing to make up for past gen­er­a­tions. De­spite boast­ing leg­endary fig­ures like Sey­dou Keita and Fred­eric Kanoute, the Ea­gles have never been African cham­pi­ons.

This new and ex­cit­ing gen­er­a­tion want to change that, but they need to be more clin­i­cal to do so. If they don’t find goals tonight, their next flight will be out of Gabon.

Their task will be made tougher by the fact that Uganda have noth­ing to lose, driven by the de­sire to leave their first Af­con after 39 years with at least one good mem­ory.

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