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Impact’s Azira Helps Cranes Make History

Key role for Impact midfielder as Uganda win first AFCON finals match in 41 years ...

Uganda’s history makers, prior to yesterday’s game in Cairo, with Michael Azira, extreme left, front row.

When your country wins its first Confederation finals game in 41 years and you play a key role ....

That was Michael Azira’s Saturday, as he won only his 7th international cap.

The 31 year-old Impact midfielder typically went about his duties efficiently and quietly, helping in no small way to negate the effectiveness of DR Congo’s danger-man, Yannick Bolasie, the Everton Premier League player.

Bolasie switched sides halfway through the first-half such was his inability to influence on the left, and was eventually replaced on 70 mins. Job done for Azira and his Ugandan mates, who at that stage were already two goals to the good.

Noted for their adeptness from set-pieces, that is exactly how Uganda engineered victory, Patrick Kaddu’s first goal resulting from a corner and the second by Emmanuel Okwi following a free-kick not long after the restart.

Uganda’s Bevis Mugabe wins this heading duel against DR Congo’s Jonathan Bolingi.

Azira joined up with the rest of the squad, early June, as they continued tournament preparations in Abu Dhabi, before heading on to Cairo.

The win puts Uganda top of Group A on goal difference from hosts Egypt, whom they face in their third game on June 30. That game looks sure to attract another 75,000 sell-out crowd at Cairo International Stadium, an exciting prospect that the Impact man, for so long overlooked by his country, must relish.

Next up for Uganda and Michael Azira however is Zimbabwe on Wednesday, a tricky encounter but one in which they could cement their place in the last eight with a victory.

Elsewhere, Dan Lovitz and Omar Browne sat on the bench throughout USA’s 6-0 demolition of Trinidad & Tobago and Panama’s 4-2 success over Guyana respectively, both in the Gold Cup. The Impact players are due to come face to face in the last group match in Kansas City on Wednesday.

Canada are in action in Charlotte this evening, taking on Cuba, where Samuel Piette hopes to be restored to the side after his exclusion in the defeat by Mexico. It will also be interesting to see if Zachary Brault-Guillard is retained on the right side of defence.

A little earlier in the month a successful Euros qualifying trip to Finland for Jukka Raitala, saw his country follow up an impressive 2-0 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina in Tampere, with a 2-0 success over Liechtenstein in Vaduz.

Jukka Raitala winning his 46th cap in Vaduz recently ....

Raitala further demonstrated his versatility by entering the fray on the right side of defence in the 36th minute against Bosnia with the game still scoreless, then started the second game in Vaduz, also in the right-back berth.

The Finns have made an encouraging start to the qualifying campaign, winning three and losing only once, to Italy in Udine, a game they would not have expected to win anyhow.

With the top two qualifying for next year’s finals, Finland is well-placed (they also won in Armenia, in March), sitting second behind The Azzurri after four rounds, and 3 points ahead of their nearest challenger, Armenia in third.