After fifty enthralling games of football, we finally know which two sides will be battling it out to bragging rights over Africa in the final of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Seven-time champions Egypt have successfully re-established their dominance, while last season’s runners-up Senegal have also proved that they are not a one-season wonder. In Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, the two teams have proven match-winners who will be determined to bring their A-game on the table in the much-awaited final, which will be played at Yaounde’s Olembe Stadium on 6th February.
But before that, let us hit the rewind button and check out what happened in the two nerve-wracking semi-finals:
BURKINA FASO 1-3 SENEGAL
The two teams who crossed paths in the first semi-final of 2021 AFCON, Burkina Faso and Senegal, had a few things in common. Both teams have never lifted this trophy before, but have done incredibly well in the last few editions.
Senegal were the favourites for two reasons – they made it to the final last year and boast of some world-class talents like Sadio Mane and Edouard Mendy. That being said, Burkina Faso are a spirited bunch, with the political turmoil back home working as a spring in their steps.
As many would have expected, the Lions of Teranga had the better start to the game with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane causing problems aplenty, but they failed to show composure in the final third. Aliou Cisse’s men were handed a penalty when Edmond Tapsoba handled Pape Gueye’s shot, but the decision was overturned by VAR since though the ball did strike Tapsoba’s arm, it was not adjudged to be in an unnatural position.
The combination of Mane and Saliou Ciss down the left flank was causing Burkina Faso all sorts of trouble, but Kamou Malo’s men were too resolute to give up. The breakthrough eventually came in the 70th minute when Paris Saint-Germain Abdou Diallo slotted in a shot from a corner.
It will be fair to say that the Stallions formulated their game-plan for a 0-0 situation, and being a goal down dampened their spirits. What came down as an even bigger blow was Marseille youngster Bamba Dieng’s goal only six minutes later.
At 2-0 down and with no fizz left in their game anymore, it seemed that the match is all but over until the unexpected happened in the 80th minute. Issa Kabore whipped in a cross from the right flank with Ibrahim Blati Toure being the intended target, and though the Pyramids FC player did not have the right balance, the ball somehow struck his knee and went in.
Burkina Faso’s joy did not last long though, as Cisse’s men eventually restored their two-goal advantage in the 87th minute. Being desperate for an equalizer, the Stallions sent everyone upfront which allowed the Teranga Lions to break on the counter and find Mane with a delightful pass from the deep. Finding himself one-on-one with only the goalkeeper Herve Koffi to beat, the 29-year-old winger did what he does week in week out in the Premier League – calmly dinked his shot over the keeper.
CAMEROON 0 (1) – 0 (3) EGYPT
The second semi-final of the competition was completely different from the first. Unlike Senegal and Burkina Faso, Egypt and Cameroon are not teams who have grabbed the limelight only recently.
They have been the big players of Africa since time immemorial and also happen to be the two most successful teams of AFCON – with Egypt having seven titles in their trophy cabinet and Cameroon boasting five trophies to their name.
All of that being said, the match could not live up to the hype it had created, mostly because of the approach of the two sides. Since the stakes were higher than ever before, both the Pharaohs and the Indomitable Lions played a tactical brand of football with minimum risks being taken.
120 minutes of action produced only four attempts on target, but both sides had a few gilt-edged chances nonetheless. Toni Conceicao’s men came very close to breaking the deadlock when a corner found Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui in space, but the KAA Gent defender’s header struck the crossbar and stayed out.
Cameroon dominated the first half, but Carlos Queiroz’s men got their act together in the second period and should have taken the lead in the 56th minute. A Martin Hongla backpass set Mohamed Salah completely free down the right flank with only Andre Onana to beat. Given the form he has been in this season so far for Liverpool, one would have easily trusted Salah to score the opener but he failed to round past the Ajax keeper.
After a decent second 45 minutes barring the glaring miss, Egypt continued their domination in the extra time as well. To add spice to an already feisty affair, Queiroz picked up a red card and will not be able to manage his team from the sidelines in the all-important final.
A minute before the referee blew his whistle for penalties, the Pharaohs had another fantastic chance of scoring the winner when Ramadan Sobhi put up a cross from the right flank with three white shirts lurking inside the box, but his delivery somehow went between all of them.
Zamalek goalkeeper Gabaski turned out to be the hero for Egypt in the penalties, as he saved two penalties while seeing another penalty go wide. Harold Moukoudi and James Lea Siliki had their efforts saved, while Clinton N’Jie’s horrific penalty was not on target, while for Egypt, Zizo, Mohamed Abdel Monem and Mohanad Lasheen were all on target, as Salah did not even need to step up.
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