The Africa Cup of Nations semifinals kick off on Wednesday as Senegal take on Burkina Faso, followed by Cameroon’s clash against Mo Salah’s Egypt the next day. Hosts Cameroon are the clear favourites but they’re expected to face tough competition. FRANCE 24 gives you the lowdown.
Senegal v Burkina Faso
Senegal went into this competition as the most touted team to seize the trophy. The Teranga Lions grabbed the attention of football fans across the globe at the 2002 World Cup, when they famously beat title-holders France – the formidable Bleus of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.
Since then, they cemented their status as giants of African football. It didn’t look like it would be long before they won their first trophy – and the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations seemed a good bet, since Senegal boasted a formidable squad spearheaded by Liverpool’s tremendously gifted winger Sadio Mané and Chelsea goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, arguably the best shot-stopper in the contemporary game. Napoli’s defensive linchpin Kalidou Koulibaly and PSG box-to-box midfielder Idrissa Gueye provided further quality elsewhere on the pitch.
But Senegal disappointed for much of this year’s tournament. They won their group in desultory fashion with just five points and one win, a 1-0 triumph over Zimbabwe produced by a dubious penalty in the 7th minute of injury time.
The Teranga Lions finally roared in the quarterfinals, where they dominated against a surprisingly tricky Equatorial Guinea to bag a decisive victory. That performance showed why they remain a decent bet to win the tournament, despite that lacklustre opening. After all, in the 2018 World Cup, France were drab in the group stage but came alive in the knockouts before taking the trophy in style. Senegal could well pull off a similar feat.
Few observers regarded their opponents Burkina Faso as one of the favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations, but they have quietly fought their way through the competition in the face of difficult opposition. Burkina Faso won on penalties against Gabon, previously one of the tournament’s most exciting teams, before their victory against Tunisia, who beat the mighty Nigeria in their preceding game – as teenager Dango Ouattara gifted them victory with a cracking goal.
Cameroon v Egypt
Cameroon imposed themselves as the obvious favourites with a sparkling win early on against Ethiopia, a 4-1 trouncing that lit up a previously goal-shy tournament. They won two out of three group stage matches and never looked back from that sterling performance in the opening round.
Their most formidable asset is talismanic striker Vincent Aboubakar, the tournament’s leading scorer so far with six goals in five games. Aboubakar’s power, pace and positioning will make him a lethal threat to Egypt’s defenders.
Aboubakar’s strike partner Karl Toko-Ekambi is not far behind in the goal scoring table, with five goals in as many matches. The Lyon striker was the star of the show in Cameroon’s quarterfinal victory over Gambia, as they relentlessly attacked to defeat well-disciplined and determined opponents.
Toko-Ekambi put them one up shortly after half-time with an exquisite header from an equally sumptuous Collins Fai cross. Seven minutes later he made it two, launching an impeccably timed run from behind the Gambia defense to tap a low cross into the back of the net.
The home advantage provides a further boon for Cameroon, with cheering crowds flocking to the stadiums, creating an intimidating atmosphere for opponents.
Cameroon’s semifinal opponents Egypt were expected to benefit from a similar home advantage when they hosted the tournament last time, in 2019. But they crashed out in the last 16 in disappointing form.
Although Egypt has at least two further rounds, their form hasn’t markedly improved, as they progressed, thanks to Nigeria, before narrow, uninspiring victories over Sudan, Ivory Coast and Morocco.
But the victory over Morocco demonstrated why – despite a lack of talent in many positions – many football fans rate Egypt as a top contender. It can be explained in two words: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool superstar and undoubtedly the greatest African footballer of the day.
Everything rested on Salah for the Pharaohs as they successfully tried to overcome Morocco – and he delivered. First he poached a ruthlessly opportunistic goal from the six-yard line. Then he enabled the second goal with a dazzling run down the right – the stuff of defenders’ nightmares – handing teammate Trézéguet a goal on a plate.
So far in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, the Cameroon defence have not faced a player on anything like the same level as Salah – and they were rattled against a valiant Cape Verde, who held them to a draw in the only blot on Cameroon’s record, thanks to their keen eye for the slightest defensive misstep. The hosts may be the clear favourites, but this tournament has thrown up suprises and there could well be still more to come.
Source: France 24