Eagles eye goals to soar over Cranes
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.