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Mali, Uganda bow out in soggy Oyem stalemate

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Mali’s midfielder Yves Bissouma (L) challenges Uganda’s defender Godfrey Walusimbi during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match in Oyem on January 25, 2017 © AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO

OYEM, Gabon, Jan 26 – Mali and Uganda drew 1-1 Wednesday on a rain-drenched Oyem pitch to exit the Africa Cup of Nations after disappointing Group D campaigns.

Uganda had already been eliminated and Mali needed to win and hope Egypt lost to Ghana to have a chance of sneaking through as runners-up.

But record seven-time champions Egypt won 1-0 in Port-Gentil to top the final standings with seven points and Ghana also progressed with six.

Mali ended third with two points and Uganda, returning to the tournament after a 39-year absence, came last with a solitary point.

Farouk Miya gave the Ugandan Cranes a 70th-minute lead in northern Gabon and Yves Bissouma equalised three minutes later.

Mali coach and former France star Alain Giresse said: “The weather conditions played a big role in this match.

“We chose an offensive plan, but had difficulty realising it because of the challenges created by the heavy surface.”

Serbia-born Uganda coach Milutin Sredojevic said: “We showed against Ghana, Egypt and Mali that we can compete against any team in Africa. I’m confident for the future.”

Mali supporters react during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Uganda and Mali in Oyem on January 25, 2017 © AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO

A torrential pre-match downpour created puddles of water in some areas of the pitch.

In such demanding conditions, teams often prefer a direct, long-ball approach, but the Malian Eagles and the Ugandan Cranes opted for a passing game.

It delivered comical results at times as players from both teams overran a ball that got stuck in the heavy pitch.

Genuine scoring chances were scarce with Mali captain Yacouba Sylla coming as close as anyone to breaking the opening-half deadlock.

Impressive winger Bissouma pushed the ball into the area just outside the box and Sylla unleased a shot that was just too high.

After having a 69th-minute goal correctly disallowed with two players clearly offside, Uganda went ahead almost immediately after.

Belgium-based teenager Miya latched on to the ball outside the box and gave goalkeeper Oumar Sissoko no chance with a stinging shot.

Mali levelled when Bissouma slammed a medium-range free-kick in front of goal past a poorly organised defensive wall and wide of goalkeeper Robert Odongkara.

Mali’s defender Molla Wague (R) and Mali’s goalkeeper Oumar Sissoko (L) try to get the ball to block a shot on goal by Uganda’s forward Luwagga William Kizito (C) during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match January 25, 2017 © AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO

The first competitive match between the countries took place in a 20,000-seat stadium built for the tournament outside the town of Oyem.

Readying a venue surrounded by a huge rain forest was a close call with workers applying the finishing touches just hours before the first matches last week.

Like the other three Cup of Nations venues in Gabon, the Oyem pitch has come under fire from coaches.

Tournament officials showed little sympathy, however, with one telling Ivory Coast handler Michel Dussuyer “you have played on worse elsewhere”.

CAF committee member and former Senegal striker Khalilou Fadiga was equally unmoved by complaints.

“Let the players not expect the pitches in Africa to be like those in Europe,” he said.

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