Salah to the Rescue as Egypt Reach Semi-Final of AFCON
Egypt progressed to the semi-finals of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to face hosts Cameroon, by defeating Morocco 2-1 after extra time – extending their unbeaten record in AFCON quarter-finals encounters to five matches.
Hoping to continue their stellar H2H record against Egypt after registering 14 victories in their 29 encounters, compared to their opponents’ three, Morocco got off to the perfect start in the Cameroonian capital as they took the lead, via the penalty spot, in the 7th minute.
It was Sofiane Boufal who obliged, sending his unstoppable spot-kick into the top right-hand corner, after referee Maguette N’Diaye had utilised the on-field monitor to award a foul against Ayman Ashraf for a careless challenge on Achraf Hakimi. After conceding their first goal in four matches at the 2021 AFCON tournament, Egypt finally found their foothold in the contest when Ashraf, attempting to make amends for his earlier blunder, forced Yassine Bounou into an instinctive save in the 20th minute. Morocco continued to threaten in pursuit of a potentially decisive goal before HT, as the ‘Pharaohs’ talismanic captain Mohamed Salah remained an onlooker throughout the first half.
In pursuit of a record-breaking eighth AFCON title, Egypt began the second half galvanised, conjuring an equaliser in the 53rd minute when Salah reacted quickest to slot in, after Yassine Bounou had done brilliantly to stop Mostafa Mohamed’s close-range header. In an attempt to reignite their attacking potency in the remaining twenty minutes of regulation time, Vahid Halilhodžić surprisingly replaced goalscorer Boufal with Soufiane Rahimi. Morocco were within inches of progressing into the semi-finals, when Gabal somehow turned Nayef Aguerd’s header onto the crossbar in the 82nd minute.
Egypt were dealt a blow early in ET, when second-choice goalkeeper Gabal was replaced due to injury. Nevertheless, Egypt completed their comeback in the match in the 100th minute when substitute Trézéguet took full advantage of some exquisite build-up play from Salah, before tapping home and sending the ‘Pharaohs’ bench into jubilant celebrations. Egypt kept their composure in the remaining minutes to extend their unbeaten record at the tournament to four matches, while Morocco’s wait for their first AFCON title since 1976 goes on.
Senegal Reaches Semi-Final
Senegal are one step closer to winning their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) after defeating Equatorial Guinea 3-1 in their quarter-final clash in Yaoundé.
Sadio Mané was perhaps surprisingly back in the starting line-up for the ‘Lions of Teranga’ following a clash of heads in midweek against Cape Verde which forced him to belatedly come off, with Liverpool’s appeal to their star forward to sit out this contest falling on deaf ears. Senegal had the game’s opening shot on target on 21 minutes through former Bristol City striker Famara Diédhiou, which Jesús Owono gathered comfortably. However, shortly before the half-hour mark, Diédhiou opened the scoring, stealing in behind the Equatorial Guinea defence to slot home Mané’s well-weighted through ball with aplomb after a neat passing move involving Idrissa Gueye and Saliou Ciss.
The goal gave Senegal a spring in their step and they could have swiftly doubled their tally were it not for Basilio Ndong’s timely interception inside his six-yard box to cut out Mané’s square ball intended for Bouna Sarr. Owono then did well to gather at the second attempt as Nampalys Mendy’s long-range rasper initially proved too hot to handle, and ‘National Thunder’ will have been relieved to hear the HT whistle.
Just after the break, Equatorial Guinea won a penalty when Iban Edú chipped the ball onto Kalidou Koulibaly’s right arm from close range, before referee Victor Gomes overturned his original decision after consulting VAR. However, Juan Micha’s men did level soon afterwards though as Ndong drove infield and laid off for Pablo Ganet, whose quick first-time pass was stroked in by Jannick Buyla for his first international goal.
Aliou Cissé threw on Ismaïla Sarr, Bamba Dieng and Cheikhou Kouyaté just after the hour, and it was Kouyaté who got his side back in front, pouncing to flick past Owono after Equatorial Guinea had made a hash of clearing a corner. Sarr duly got on the scoresheet as Koulibaly’s gorgeous crossfield pass was brought down majestically by Ciss, who controlled smartly and dribbled into the box to put the ball on a plate for the Watford man.
Cissé’s men will now be heavily fancied to beat semi-final opponents Burkina Faso on Wednesday, with the winners of that encounter meeting Egypt or hosts Cameroon in the final next Sunday.