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Cranes are out, but want to finish on a high

The moment that ended Uganda's chances of qualifying for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals, was when Egypt's midfielder Abdallah El-Said's low shot went through the legs of goalkeeper Denis Onyango on 88 minutes.

As the Pharoahs celebrated their 1-0 win, The Cranes were downcast, as they left Stade de Port Gentil on Saturday January 21. Cranes coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic pointed out that it was that little extra quality that made the difference in the game.

But after a long journey from Port Gentil, where The Cranes originally camped, to Bitam, in the North of Gabon, right at the border point with Cameroon, the defeat sank in.

As they had their first training session on Monday evening at Stade Gaston Peyrye, Micho concentrated mostly on attack, to harness that extra quality, which has been missing in Cranes game- scoring.

Micho and his assistant Moses Basena discuss tactics

Unlike the mood in previous days before Cranes met Ghana and Egypt, where, even behind the smiles, hid an element of nerves, this time round, the team is not uptight. Not even the sight of Onyango sitting out the training unsettled anyone, which could be a good thing.

“Although we have generally defended well and not allowed to be overrun in midfield, we have had a lot of tension,” Micho said. And clearly, it is normally teams that play with calm, that are able to apply themselves best. Calmness personified is a key attribute of top goal-scorers.

An important reference point is the way Egypt managed to secure their win, even when they had not played particularly at the top level they are known for. The calmness of forward Mohamed Salah, who set up El-Said was exquisite.

Cranes captain Geoffrey Massa told The Observer that it is that kind of personality that as a team, they must develop: “We need to go into games knowing exactly what we want, and then play in a manner, that ensures we get it. My feeling is that if Egypt wanted just the draw against us, they would have got it.”

Mike Azira and Farouk Miya training on Monday

So, Mali comes up as a big test for Massa and company to get the goals. One swan-song act of valour is all Ugandans will need. And Massa knows how important it, however academic the game is for The Cranes. He said after the training that they have been training hard on the attack throughout this time, but things did not work out.

He confessed that they were failing to create goals, let alone exert as much pressure on opposing defences. But he hopes the case will be different on Wednesday night. Massa admits they have to force the issue.

It matters to the players too. A win alone would earn them $3000 each. They missed out on the $1000 had they forced Egypt to a draw. The disappointment, albeit silent, could be sensed. Most of them have kept in their rooms since, with dampened spirits.

They had high hopes to not only propel their football careers, but also make an extra bucks. Now they have chance to. Not only for themselves, but for Fufa, who would have in their coffers $575,000 for finishing third, as opposed to $475,000, which goes to fourth placed teams.   

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