The 2021 CAF U-20 AFCON championship is almost over and businesses in Mauritania who were making a windfall as host country would be making last minute sales as all teams would be saying their goodbyes pretty soon.
If that was something the consider, what is more exciting and the main reason for such gathering in the first place is near at hand. Today, in the Stade Olympique in Nouakchott, Mauritania, at exactly 8pm Ghana time, the battle for glory will be kick started. It won’t be just any final match but one that assures of a place in history for either side. Much of the history have already being made by the Hippos of Uganda who have travelled all the way from their debut in the CECAFA Zone championship, to debuting in the main tournament and reaching the finals on their first attempt.
They could just rest and say, Ghana, please take this. We are okay to have gone this far. We would have been playing in the world cup this year but for COVID-19 so we appreciate our success and just need time to process all of that so we don’t need much to it to compound our confusion in excitement. The Black Satellites on the other hand could also just hand it over the Ugandans saying, you can have it. We already have three of these plus a world cup which we are the only country in Africa to lay hands on. But football is not a game of compromise and even in extreme situations such as the 2017 plane crash that saw almost an entire squad wiped out still did not merit a gifting of championship as Chapecoense had to earn it later via a full and regular match. Same can be said of Zambia who had to fight their way to the 1994 finals despite losing almost their entire squad prior to the tournament in Tunisia.
What makes today’s final also interesting aside the history to be made by both sides is the fact that both come into this finals as champions of their respective qualifying zones. Whereas Ghana overcame neighbours Burkina Faso 2 – 1 in Stade Charles De Gaulles in Porto Novo in Benin to emerge champions after falling behind in the 15th minute, Uganda gave a heavy clout to Tanzania, thrashing them 4 – 1 to win the tournament.
The fairytale run of both sides in the ongoing tournament included losses for Uganda against Cameroon and Ghana against Gambia which almost led to their exit from the competition. They both also had success in penalty shootouts as both sides edged out Burkina Faso, 5 – 3 and Cameroon, 4 – 1 respectively. The semi-final encounters produced contrasting fortunes in front of goal for both sides with Uganda sending Tunisia off with a 4 – 1 thumping and the Black Satellites accounting for The Gambia by a solitary strike from star man Percious Boah.
This match will thus be a case of two young sides brazing for glory and pride. The Satellites would want to gift the trophy as an Independence day gift to Ghanaians and also cement their place in history as the joint second most successful team in the competition alongside Egypt who has four titles, three behind the competition best side, Nigeria. Coach Karim Zito said this ahead of today’s encounter, “I want to win this tournament and then present this trophy to Ghana’s number one citizen, President Nana Akuffo-Addo as a gift to celebrate our Independence Day. This will be our gift to Ghanaians.”
Zito has confidence in his boys to deliver and stated, “If I look at the boys I believe they can do it. They are full of talent and the way they play shows you they are hungry for something. When we left, I told the president (Kurt Okraku) that I will bring him the trophy. We will do that.” He is not oblivious to the fact that he and his boys had doubters and thus want to continue to prove them wrongs as they already have done. “Most people didn’t have the faith that we can do it but we have come here and worked hard to be at the final,” he added.
WHAT DID MORLEY BEKYWASO SAY?
Uganda coach, Coach Bekyewaso is pleased with his sides progress in the tournament. He told cafonline, “This is a big motivation for the country and the young boys who are coming up and willing to play for the Uganda Cranes. This is going to motivate us that in the next five years we are going to see a very strong Uganda national team side.” He added, “The Federation has invested a lot in young players and in youth football and all this is meant at strengthening the senior national team. This is a huge success, because we came here as underdogs and now we are in the final.”
On the chances of his side against the three time champions, he said, “For us, we take a game at a time. No one expected us to get here but we are here now. We know Ghana is a strong team but we are going into the final without pressure on our shoulders.” This is the core of the team’s believe and if your leader is motivated, even the followers would be strong to take on the strongest of opponents.
Both sides come into today’s contest with impressive score cards. The Black Satellites have scored seven goals, five of them in the group stages. They have conceded three goals with two of those coming in the group stage in their defeat to The Gambia. Their other goal conceded came in the draw with Cameroon who beat Uganda 1 – 0 in their group A encounter on match day two.
Uganda on the other hand scored eight goals, four of them in the group stage. The other four came in the semi-final victory against Tunisia. They conceded three in the process with two in the group stage in their defeat to Cameroon and 2 – 1victory over Mauritania. The other goal came in the semi-final victory against Tunisia.
The two sides possess a plethora of talents that can flip games and it is without discrediting efforts of any team to say, it has been team efforts that led each team this far. However a few of the players bring something extra and that is the focus here.
Percious Boah (Ghana): having led their comeback to clinch the zonal championship in Benin in December 2020, he continued his raid here. He has so far contributed three goals to the team’s efforts so far and is in the race for the top scorer award if he can breach the Ugandan defense at least twice tonight.
Abdul Fatawu Issahaku (Ghana): the midfielder brings dynamism and attacking potency to the game. He’s been a constant threat in opposition halves and has shown that by returning two goals in the tournament so far. He will be on the look out to increasing his tally as the curtains are brought down on the tournament. If he is able to stay in his best form today, he would be a big threat to the Ugandan defense.
Ghana have so far had four different players contributing at least a goal in the tournament with Joselpho Barnes and Frank Boateng each contributing one goal apiece.
Derrick Kakooza (Uganda): the tournament leading scorer is in red hot form. He scored hattrick in the semi-final, adding to goals from the spot against Mauritania and Mozambique. He will be looking to cement his hold on the race to the top scorer gong and if the Satellites do give out a penalty, be sure he will be the one to step out for it and he has a 100% success rate from the spot so far with 2 out of 2.
Steven Sserwadda (Uganda): he has been a constant goal threat so far contributing two goals in matches against Mozambique and Mauritania. He will be looking forward to adding to his tally and the Satellites must be ready to deal with his instinctiveness else they have him celebrating after 90 minutes.
Uganda have had three different goal scorers with Richard Basangwa being the other goal scorer with one goal. Captain Gavin Kizito cannot be overlooked the Ghanaian team would have a bag of threats to handle in 90 minutes of open play.
WHAT WILL WIN THE GAME?
The game will be won based on tactics and discipline. The coach who will be able to read the game as it progresses will come out smiling after 90 minutes as this game is less likely to go the penalty shootouts. Teamwork would be key too and as have been the case with the Black Satellites, an early one goal lead, would seal victory as they would keep possession and frustrate their Central African rivals. Defending deep against this Ugandan side would be a difficult task without the ball and could be risky.
Committing fouls and handing free kicks in vitals areas by the Ugandans would be rewarding to the Ghanaians as Percious Boateng would love to exploit that and that could be one of the game tactics of Karim Zito, to encourage his boys to take risks that will force the opposition to commit fouls in key areas to hand them set piece advantage. Individual skills will be vital going forward and the hero of today’s match could come from an unlikely source and guess who could that be?