Alionzi, Ssemakula embodied Uganda Cranes fighting spirit

Alionzi celebrates his penalty save. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

A point off DRC and three against Senegal - all made possible by solid goalkeeping, defending and Milton Karisa's solitary goal on Wednesday - have Uganda on four points. 

The team spirit is clear. From a series of pre and post-match prayer and motivation talks - as shared in viral videos - to the way they carry themselves on the pitch, you can see it. 

This Cranes side, a mixture of youth and experience, have fought for each other in the two games they have so far played at the African Nations Championship (Chan) finals in Algeria.

When they haven't scored - and one in two matches is not a return to make noise about - they have looked out for each other to ensure they at least don't concede.

That is why the opening goalless draw against DRC and a 1-0 victory over 10-man Senegal have Uganda towering over the aforementioned and tomorrow's opponents, Ivory Coast, in Group B.

A point off DRC and three against Senegal - all made possible by solid goalkeeping, defending and Milton Karisa's solitary goal on Wednesday - have Uganda on four points. 

Trailing with final group games due tomorrow is Senegal, DRC and Ivory Coast on three, two and one respectively.

A point off seed number one in the group, DRC, wasn't that bad enough after all last Saturday.

Huge calls, performances

But the three off Senegal, also made possible by Cranes coach Micho Sredojevic sticking to his trusted generals, some of whom were unpopular with fans, was really huge.

And talking of huge, while all players deserve plaudits for their effort so far, it is goalkeeper Nafian Alionzi and defender-cum-midfielder Kenneth Ssemakula that stood out for more praise on Wednesday.

Micho, who was also seen exchanging happy moments with youngster Ssemakula after the player picked his MVP accolade, was in full praise of Alionzi after the goalkeeper's penalty saving heroic and general display.

"Playing against the Teranga Lions is like a gladiator coming in the den of lions," he said after the win in Annaba, Algeria on Wednesday night.

"It has been an action thriller match where in one moment with an indirect free kick and a penalty kick we would be down. 

"However, we survived, credit to Alionzi, to the defence… But Alionzi saved the penalty and the rest of the defence reacted the right way.

"In international football there are waves," added Micho, "that was their wave. 

"However, we waited for our wave to come and in that wave we have tactfully planned to send the ball behind their two centre backs."

Indeed, against the run of play as Ugandan defenders soaked in Senegalese attack after another, Moses Waiswa's corner kick was cleared into the path of Ssemakula, who drilled it back into the box for Karisa to beat goalkeeper Pape Sy on 33 minutes.

Earlier, Senegal's Moussa Ndiaye had been fouled in an aerial challenge by striker Frank Ssebufu in the penalty box for Tunisian referee Mehrez Melki to point to the spot.

Turning point 

But impressive Alionzi, who also redeemed himself after conceding the earlier mentioned indirect freekick and parrying the resultant hit away from five yards, saved Cheikh Sidibe's penalty to keep Uganda in the game. 

Alionzi went on to make several other match winning saves to further assure the nation that produced Denis Onyango that the pipeline still had them coming through. 

As for Ssemakula, who drew criticism for Micho when the coach introduced him for Moses Waissswa when Uganda needed a goal against DRC, he disproved many, here. 

The defender started in midfield, again, at the expense of Karim Watambala and produced a Man of the match performance, including crafting Karisa's winner. 

Yet, while the Cranes deserve the praise after their table topping opening two matches, they have barely had the job done. 

They will top the group if they beat Ivory Coast tomorrow, with a draw also enough to guarantee them a first ever quarterfinal slot. 

But Uganda and Micho, who was also in charge of the team at the time, will remember that they also had four points from their opening two games at South Africa 2014 when they still failed to advance. Awareness!

Chan 2022 Algeria 


Uganda vs. Ivory Coast, 10pm

Senegal vs. DRC, 10pm

Uganda and goals at Chan over the years

Scored 1 and conceded 5 at Sudan 2011

Scored 3 and conceded 4 at South Africa 2014

Scored 3 and conceded 4 at Rwanda 2016 

Scored 1 and conceded 4 at Morocco 2018

Scored 3 and conceded 7 at Cameroon 2020

So far scored 1 and conceded none at Algeria 2022

12: Total goals scored so far

24: Goals conceded 

Uganda vs Ivory Coast head-to-head

Games won: 1

Games drawn: 2

Games lost: 2


Jan 16, 1968: Ivory Coast 2-1 Uganda, Afcon finals

Mar 4, 1974: Ivory Coast 2-2 Uganda, Afcon finals 

Jan 11, 2017: Ivory Coast 3-0 Uganda, Friendly

Jan 22, 2018: Uganda 0-0 Ivory Coast, Chan finals

Jun 15, 2019: Ivory Coast 0-1 Uganda, Friendly


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