The Uganda Hippos’ remarkable run to the semi-finals of the U20 Africa Cup of Nations is a statement of intent and a historic achievement built on deliberate efforts to see Uganda’s football thrive on the continent according to head coach Morley Byekwaso.
Thursday evening’s 5-3 victory on penalties over Burkina Faso in Nouakchott sent the Hippos into their first semi-final in the continental show piece as Uganda made history in their maiden appearance at the tournament.
Speaking after the game, Byekwaso described his side’s achievement as ‘historic and the start of a new journey for the country’s football’.
“This is history,” Byekwaso said in his press conference before adding; “This re-echos the words of our FA president (Moses Magogo) whose dream is to see Uganda become one of the best footballing nation in Africa.”
“And with this, we are at the start of a new journey in Ugandan football and we are proud of what we have achieved at this tournament.”
“We came to this tournament as underdogs and no one expected us to get this far because it is our first time playing at the U20 AFCON.”
“Of course, we knew how tough a challenge it was going to be but we wanted to test ourselves against the power houses of African football like Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and the rest and we are happy that we have gone this far,” he added.
The Hippos once again showed great mental resilience to overcome the Junior Stallions 5-3 on penalties after they were pegged back for much of the 120 minutes with Burkina Faso having much of the ball.
Joffery Biaze who was voted man of the match was a menace for the Hippos and saw his effort from a free kick rattle the cross bar.
Another shot was nearly deflected into the back of the net by defender Kenneth Ssemakula but goalkeeper Jack Komakech pulled off a spectacular save.
Byekwaso praised his side’s desire, unity and determination to see out the game and still have the nerve to prevail in the post match penalties.
“I am happy with the way the boys handled the game through the 120 minutes because we came up against a tough team, very physical and quite competitive side,” Byekwaso said.
“But I felt we matched them pound for pound and the boys recognised how tough a challenge it was and conducted themselves well not giving them the advantage and holding it out for the entire game.”
“When we got to the penalties they did well to hold their nerve and with luck on our side we prevailed from the game,” he continued.
Goalkeeper Jack Komaketch saved from Yacouba Djiga’s penalty kick before Kenneth Ssemakula sealed victory with Uganda’s fifth spot kick.
Eric Chardey and Karamoko Bamba scored for Burkina Faso while Derrick Kakooza, Joseph Bukenya, Najib Yiga and Ivan Bogere also scored their respective penalty kicks to set up a semi-final berth with either Tunisia or Morocco.