Coach Morley Byekwaso and his U20 national team dreamt a lot about playing against superpowers and are living that after beating Burkina Faso 5-3 in post-match penalty shoot out to reach the semifinals of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Mauritania on Thursday.
In a tense game that ended goalless after 120 minutes, Uganda, debutantes at the biennial continental tourney, needed a slice of fortune and mental toughness to overcome their physically superior opponents.
South Africa-based goalkeeper Jack Komakech was the hero, pulling off a reflex on the goalline to deny the young Stallions after a deflection off his defender, but more importantly, saving the first penalty by defender Nasser Djiga.
Defender Kenneth Ssemakula converted the last kick to mark perfection after Derrick Kakooza, Joseph Bukenya, Najib Yiga and Ivan Bogere scored from 12 yards.
“We knew this time (of penalties) can come so we had a plan B because all teams once they reach quarterfinals, they are hard and this was a difficult game,” Byekwaso said.
Throughout the two hours of football, the Hippos showed a lot of endeavour but hardly troubled the opposing goalkeeper. They also faded as the game wore on.
“They were the better team,” Byekwaso admitted. “We are very happy. We came as underdogs. But we dreamt a lot about playing superpower teams like Burkina Faso, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Morocco... Every tournament has surprise teams and we are starting to build football in Uganda.”
The Hippos await the winners between Tunisia and Morocco and will 90 minutes from playing in the $200,000 (Shs740m) game – the final. Prior to the quarterfinals, Fufa president Moses Magogo promised the team a significant share of the purse.
By reaching the quarterfinals, they were already guaranteed $80,000 (Shs296m).
However, such has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that there’s no World Cup reward. The top four teams of the finals would have qualified for the 2021 Fifa U-20 World Cup in Indonesia – Fifa cancelled the finals due to the pandemic.