Uganda left the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) with their heads held high after they were eliminated by Sadio Mane’s Senegal at Cairo International Stadium in the last 16 on Friday night.
The Cranes did better than two years ago in Gabon in the last Afcon where they crashed out in the group stage. This year they made history by reaching the knockout stage for the first time since 1978. But they couldn’t emulate that generation that went to the final.
What this crop of players did, however, was to inspire future generations by making them stand up and take notice, with the realisation that they can do better in the years to come.
“I am very proud of my players,” Uganda coach Sebastien Desabre said. The target for the Frenchman was to reach the knockout stage, which he comfortably did.
The Cranes finished second in a group that had hosts Egypt, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“It was unbelievable,” Allan Kateregga said.
“Nobody actually believed that we would get here. But we managed to get here, put up decent performances and played against the world’s best, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
“We faced a DRC team that had players who are playing in the biggest leagues in the world. It was a very big, big opportunity for me personally.”
Cape Town City’s Kateregga and Mamelodi Sundowns’ Denis Onyango will link up with their teammates in South Africa to prepare for the 2018/19 season.
While Onyango’s future is certain, as the Brazilians’ No 1, Kateregga doesn’t have that luxury. The Citizens loaned him to Maritzburg United last season. He is unlikely to stay in Cape Town as City have exhausted their foreign quota.
“The Afcon is Africa’s best, the PSL is Africa’s best league. They go hand in hand,” Kateregga said.
“It’s different, but all together the best. I am lucky that I was among the players in the team. I have to talk to Cape Town City first about my future. I want to stay in the PSL.”
Senegal set up a date with Benin in the quarter-finals after their 1-0 win over Uganda. Benin stunned Morocco, one of the tournament’s favourites, eliminating them on penalties after the match ended 1-1.
Uganda were looking to follow Benin in upsetting another team that’s tipped to win the Afcon. It didn’t happen.
Senegal’s experience came to the fore as they dispatched Uganda who played with heart and determination. Onyango even saved a penalty from Mane.
Uganda’s performance has Emmanuel Okwi believing that they’ll do even better in the 2021 Afcon.
“It’s a very good experience, especially if you consider that we played the Afcon in 2017, were eliminated in the group stage, and in 2019 we went out in the knockout stage,” Okwi said.
“We need to capitalise on the experience that we gained and get better.”
The Simba striker was one of Uganda’s standout players in their campaign. Okwi found the back of the net twice in the group stage.
There is heavy speculation that he could be headed to South Africa.
“I have very high ambitions,” Okwi said. “I want to get to the highest place possible.”
Meanwhile, Mane has said he will step aside as Senegal’s penalty taker for the time being after missing spot kicks in successive Afcon games.
Mane, who has scored three goals in the tournament, saw a penalty saved during his team’s 1-0 round of 16 match win over Uganda on Friday, having previously missed in the 3-0 win over Kenya where he also converted one penalty.
“It’s a momentary withdrawal,” he told Senegalese media after the match. “I have missed penalties in both games and must admit that it is not a good ratio.
“I do not want to penalise my team and, at least for the time being, I’m going to stand aside for the penalties and let other teammates get on with it.
“When I return to my club, I will continue to work hard to improve on this aspect,” added the Liverpool forward.
Earlier, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said he was happy for Mane to continue as his penalty taker.
“There is confidence in him and that’s why he took this penalty,” he said. “But, this is a discussion that I will have with him.”
Mane, who has scored 19 goals in 63 appearances, is taking part in the finals for the third time and has had a topsy-turvy relationship with the tournament.
He played two matches in 2015 when his side went out in the first round and, two years ago in Gabon, scored two goals but could not prevent a quarter-final elimination against Cameroon, missing the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.
Senegal, who have never won the competition, face Benin in the semi-finals.