Senegal will face surprise package Benin in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals after narrowly defeating Uganda 1-0 in Cairo.
The game’s only goal came on the quarter hour mark when in-form Sadio Mane raced through to score his third of the competition. He should have grabbed another but was again denied from 12 yards.
Uganda huffed and puffed, but Senegal stayed firm to ease themselves into the final eight with their dreams of becoming African champions for the first time intact.
As with every game, there are of course winners and losers.
Winner: Sadio Mane
In a team full of high calibre footballers Sadio Mane stands head and shoulders above. His recent campaign with Liverpool saw him go from being a supporting act into their leading man as he’d often more so than Mohamed Salah pop up in the important moments. He’s carried that form here, much to Senegal’s benefit, and Uganda made the cardinal sin of allowing him to run into free space. The Lions of Teranga’s opening goal arrived on the stroke of 15 minutes when Mane raced into the penalty area before slotting the ball past Denis Masinde Onyango who had been cautioned earlier. It was easy as 1-2-3 for Senegal’s most valuable player.
Loser: Uganda’s positional disciple
Every goal can be theoretically prevented, what often helps in this regard is if everyone puts in the effort, which couldn’t be said of Uganda’s nonexistent midfield and statuesque defence. A wayward pass was intercepted by Henri Saivet who fed M’Baye Niang to lay the ball on a plate for the onrushing Mane. More damning for manager Sébastien Desabre was the gap between defence and midfield which made it all the more easy for their opponents to navigate through. Going back to Senegal’s deadlock breaker all it needed was for someone to commit a tactical foul, even if that meant being cautioned, in a game where there’s such a gulf in class it’s a risk worth taking.
Winner: Aliou Cissé
Before the game head coach Aliou Cissé entertained the notion whether Senegal are underachieving at this level. Since their run to the 2002 final, subsequently losing on penalties (3-2) against Cameroon, their best result came in 2006 – a fourth place finish. Cissé, captain of that 2002 generation which famously inflicted an opening World Cup finals defeat on reigning champions France, was to an extent spot on here today. They haven’t been perfect at these championships, and were second best to Algeria recently, but he is clearly getting the best out of those at his disposal, which can go along way to deciding this summer’s victor.
Loser: M’Baye Niang
— CAF (@CAF_Online) July 5, 2019
Although he created it’s fair to say M’Baye Niang came out short regarding his bread and butter. Of course, having lethal forwards either side of him – in the guise of Henri Saivet and Mane – as well as Ismaila Sarr floating around elevates some of the goalscoring pressure off his shoulders. But this was a disappointing performance, not only was he guilty of losing possession, the former AC Milan was unable to get into dangerous areas or stretching a vulnerable Ugandan defence.
Winner: Denis Onyango
In many ways, despite being on the losing side, Denis Onyango was a winner this evening. Firstly, he was fortunate to be on the pitch after erratically giving away a 60th minute penalty, that would have been his second yellow card – after picking up his first via another crazy moment with the game five minutes old – and sending off. Secondly, he dramatically saved Mane’s penalty to keep Uganda’s slim hopes alive. With no video assistant referee (VAR) in the 2019 Afcon until we reach the quarter-final phase one wonders Onyango’s fate if it was available.