IN their maiden attempt, the Uganda Hippos have progressed to the final of the Total Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), being played in Mauritania.
The East African nation’s emphatic 4-1 victory over Tunisia in the semi-final at the Stade de Olympique in Nouakchott on Monday night propelled them to the grand finale of this year’s showpiece.
They will tackle three-time champions and former FIFA Under-20 World Cup winners, Ghana, on Saturday.
According to the CAF media outlet, head coach, Morley Byekwaso, believes the team’s success can be an inspiration for Ugandan football as well as the next generation of players coming through the ranks, that the Pearl of Africa is rising.
“This is a big motivation for the country and the young boys who are coming up and willing to play for the Uganda Cranes. This is going to motivate us that in the next five years, we are going to see a very strong Ugandan national team side,” the tactician said.
He added: “The Federation has invested a lot in young players and in youth football and all this is meant at strengthening the senior national team. This is a huge success because we came here as underdogs and now we are in the final.”
The team has shown a lot of cohesion throughout the tournament and this is down to the players’ progression from the lowest age cadres to the Under-20 squad.
Nine of the players in the current team in Mauritania were part of the squad at the Under-17 AFCON in Tanzania in 2019.
Skipper Gavin Kizito also captained the Under-17 team in Dar es Salaam. Goalkeeper Jack Komakech, midfielders Isma Mugulusi and Najib Yiga, Ivan Asaba, Andrew Kawooya, Davis Ssekajja, Joseph Kafumbe and Delton Oyo were all part of the squad.
“There has been progression and this shows why we have been performing well. The players understand each other and have played together for a while. They also understand the system and know what is required of them so it is easier when they come on the pitch,” coach Byekwaso, who is also an assistant coach at Premier League giants, KCCA, stated.
Looking back at the well worked victory over the Tunisians, Byekwaso was full of praise for his players for their effort, noting that they had to device a good game plan to stop the North Africans.
“We had three days without sleep just trying to think of ways of stopping them,” the coach explains.
“Tunisia is a very good team and one of the powerhouses in African football. I know for sure that individually, player-by-player, we cannot match them but as a team we are better. They are a team that possess the ball and do a lot of interchanging in midfield. They are comfortable in their positions and know each other well.
“We knew that once we gave them space and time on the ball, they would hurt us and that is the area we emphasised on and that really helped us. We also got our chances and used them,” added the coach.
Ahead of the final against Ghana on Saturday, the tactician still believes his team can dream and write their names in the history of Ugandan and African football.
“For us, we take a game at a time. No one expected us to get here but we are here now. We know Ghana are a strong team but we are going into the final without pressure on our shoulders,” he noted.
The Hippos are standing in the line of history as victory on Saturday will make them the first Ugandan team to clinch a Continental title. (PANA/NAN)
– Mar. 3, 2021 @ 10:17 GMT |