By Joseph Kizza
Senegal 1 (Mane 84') Uganda 0
First leg: Uganda 1 Senegal 1 (Senegal advance to the final qualifying round)
Uganda Cranes saw their World Cup 2014 qualification journey crash to an agonizing end at the hands of Senegal in an eventful decider that saw defender Godfrey Walusimbi sent off.
The visitors should have scored early in either half of the tense tie, but were left to massage their misfortunes with resultant missed close chances at goal.
The West Africans, on their part, equally had their shining moments which did not translate into positives on the score board until late into the game, thanks to a Sadio Mane finish.
Mane, who currently plays for Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, tapped in home in the 84th minute to elevate the level of task the Cranes had to overcome to go through.
But with a man short and time running out on them, Coach Micho Sredojevic’s men could not recover.
The result rhymed perfectly well with what the Lions of Teranga needed to maintain their lead in Group J and consequently move on to the final qualifying round, from which five countries will advance to represent Africa in Brazil.
Micho’s side traveled to Marrakech, the neutral ground, in very high spirits on the back of a victorious friendly against Botswana. And the subplot that developed around the pre-match with the financial boost by President Yoweri Museveni to the team and their supporters couldn’t have made things any better.
A group of select Ugandan football fans flew to Marrakech aboard a chartered plane on match day to lend their collective voice behind their visiting side. It was not enough though, as they witnessed first-hand their beloved team once again suffer defeat in a crucial decider.
Will this come off as yet another of those heartbreaking moments in Uganda Cranes football? Not sure what to think but I wouldn’t go that way considering the manner in which the visitors handled their West African opponents.
From the very start, under floodlights, in a close to empty stadium, the Senegal players bossed possession with spirited intent and sprayed the ball to and fro in admirable fashion. But the Cranes, coming into this game as the clear underdogs, had enough of that early enough and settled into the matters at hand.
But their inevitable desperation to play catch-up caught them on the wrong side of the law, eventually conceding early the first foul of the game after Isaac Isinde clattered into Moussa Sow.
From then on, Micho’s team looked sharper, and gained two corners in immediate succession but the closest of opportunities to draw first blood vanished into thin air on the second corner as the well-measured ball from Brian Majwega met Isinde who could but only direct his header wide.
The set pieces worked well for the Ugandans against their much broader and taller opponents who in turn put to good use the services of Moussa Sow on the wing and lone striker Mame Birame Diouf to launch constant attacks towards goalkeeper Robert Odongkara.
Sow seemed to have a good time in his exploits up the wing, showing dexterity and purpose, though well under the constant attentions of his marker. At one point, he freed himself off the back of Isinde to meet Diouf's clever flicked header but before he could pull the trigger, he was waved for offside.
Isinde became the first man of the game to be booked by South African referee Daniel Bennett after he bundled a pacy Hannover-based Diouf down the left side.
Defender Denis Iguma's wing looked to have won favor of the Senegal midfielders for channelling balls to their explosive attackers.
Goal stopper Odongkara was the attraction of a near-costly error when he couldn’t hold on to a routine ball which let loose into the six-yard box but no white shirt followed the threat. This error preceded the sending off of left-back Godfrey Walusimbi who was shown a straight red card for a needless double lunge.
From then on, frustration started to get the better of some Ugandan players. Brian Majwega was one of them. He was only lucky to escape a booking after he kicked the ball out of play in irritation after conceding a free-kick.
One man down, the Cranes were gifted with a rare opportunity at the start of the second half when Tonny Mawejje charged solo goalwards but was flagged offside. Had he scored, it could have been a game changer amid his side’s deficit in numbers.
More trouble loomed as Emma Okwi got stretched off moments before Moses Oloya stepped on for Baba Kizito.
Impressively, Micho’s men managed to keep the scoreline intact close to the end – but only just! Towards the final moments of normal time play, French coach Alain Giresse’ troops saw the back of the net, thanks to Mane’s straight-forward tap-in.
A neat ball into the feet of Sow took him wide of captain Andy Mwesigwa and his shot across the face of goal was met by Mane who tapped the ball into an empty net.
It was a little too late for the visitors to launch a comeback and they were eventually sent packing.
Senegal v Uganda: As it happened