2021 African Cup of Nations: Semifinals Preview
What has happened in the Knockout Stages
The 2021 African Cup of Nations has reached the semifinal stage after an exciting Round of 16 and quarterfinals. In the Round of 16, there was excitement in every match. Three matches went to penalties with Burkina Faso beating Gabon 1-1 (7-6), Equatorial Guinea upsetting Mali 0-0 (6-5), and in the battle of African powers Egypt beating Ivory Coast 0-0 (5-4). In their match Burkina Faso forward Bertrand Traore missed a penalty that would have given themselves a 1-0 lead, before scoring later in the match. It looked that Burkina Faso was going to advance in normal time, but an own goal in the 90+1 minute sent the match to extra time.
The biggest surprise in the Round of 16 saw one of the favorites Nigeria be knocked out by Tunisia in a rematch of the 2019 African Cup of Nations third-place game. It took a 47th-minute goal from Youssef Msakni for Tunisia to beat the Super Eagles 1-0. Another Round of 16 surprise came when first-time qualifiers Gambia beat Guinea 1-0 to continue their improbable run. In the other three matches in the Round of 16, the favorites stood strong with Senegal winning 2-0 over Cape Verde, Cameroon winning 2-1 over Comoros, and Morocco fighting back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 over Malawi.
In the quarterfinals of the 2021 African Cup of Nations, the biggest match was Egypt against Morocco. This was the only match that went into extra time with Trézéguet being the hero after a wonderful pass from Mohamed Salah found him unmarked in front of the goal. His goal gave Egypt a 2-1 lead which they held onto for the final 20 minutes. It was not looking great for Egypt early though after giving away a penalty only seven minutes in that was converted calmly by Sofiane Boufal. Salah brought Egypt back with a goal eight minutes into the second half. The Pharaohs will now play the hosts Cameroon in the semifinals after the Indomitable Lions walked past Gambia with two goals from Karl Toko Ekambi.
After upsetting Nigeria in the Round of 16 Tunisia was upset themselves. Tunisia’s run in the 2021 African Cup of Nations ended in the quarterfinals with a 1-0 loss to Burkina Faso. A goal scored just before halftime by Dango Ouattara was the difference. It was not a straightforward win for Burkina Faso who had to play with ten men for the final ten minutes after Ouattara was shown a red card. Another surprise team of the tournament was Equatorial Guinea whose quest to match their semifinal appearance in 2015 came up short following a 3-1 loss against Senegal. The big story in this match was that Sadio Mane was healthy to play after coming off with a head injury in the previous game against Cape Verde and being questionable to play.
Burkina Faso vs Senegal
Two teams that are still looking to win their first-ever African Cup of Nations come face-to-face in this semifinal. There was some worry for Senegal following the group stage since they won one of their three matches and scored only once in the process. It has been a different team in the knockout round scoring five goals in two matches. This match with Burkina Faso will not be an easy one by any means with a team in Burkina Faso that has found ways to win and keep progressing in this tournament. Burkina Faso will be without their goalscorer against Tunisia as Ouattara will have to miss out after receiving a red card. They will be looking for captain Bertrand Traore to have an impact in his return after not playing against Tunisia. Traore is one of five players to have scored for The Stallions in the 2021 African Cup of Nations. The previous three matches between Senegal and Burkina Faso have all ended in draws, but the two have not faced off since 2017. Burkina Faso looks to make the African Cup of Nations final for the first time since 2013 while Senegal looks to advance to their second straight final. The match will take place at 2 PM ET on Wednesday, February 2nd at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Burkina Faso have had a great run to get to the semifinals, but that run will come to an end. Senegal has looked too good against two competitive teams in the knockout stage and will keep the momentum going into the final. Expect Mane to have a goal and impact the game in a big way. My pick Senegal 2-1.
Cameroon vs Egypt
The two most successful teams in the history of the African Cup of Nations go head-to-head. Hosts Cameroon are looking to get to the final for the eighth time having won five previous titles. Facing them are the most successful team in Africa, Egypt, who are seven-time winners and nine-time finalists. Cameroon have been arguably the best team in the entire tournament and have the top two goalscorers in the 2021 African Cup of Nations, Karl Toko Ekambi has five goals and Vincent Aboubakar has six goals. Cameroon’s defense has been just as strong, only allowing four goals in the tournament, but they will be tested in this matchup by one of the best forwards in the world in Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian captain played his best match of the tournament last time out against Morocco and could very easily use that to spark a hot streak of games. For Cameroon, a win over Egypt would make them the first host country to make the final since Egypt won the 2006 African Cup of Nations as hosts. It would also have them back in the final for the second time in the last three tournaments, winning the 2017 African Cup of Nations in which they beat Egypt 2-1 with goals from Abubakar and Nicolas Nkoulou. The semi-final rematch of the 2017 final will take place on Thursday, February 3rd at 2 PM ET at the Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
In my pre-tournament preview, I picked Egypt to make the final and I have backed them since, but the way Cameroon has been playing will be hard to beat especially when you are a team like Egypt that is coming off two matches that went to extra time including one that went to penalties. If Egypt can have more support for Salah I think the Pharaohs can advance, but it is hard to find a player hotter than Aboubakar. My pick Cameroon 2-1 AET.
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