Sport

AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS

Stallions will play for all Burkinabès in semifinal following coup

Burkina Faso huddle during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Afcon Finals Semifinal Burkina Faso Training Session held at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon on 01 February 2022 ©Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Burkina Faso will head into their semifinal clash at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal hoping to give the people back home something to cheer about, while heavyweights Cameroon and Egypt will lock horns in the other semi.

While their home nation is besieged by uncertainty and fear following a recent military coup which was preceded by multiple jihadist attacks in 2021, Burkina Faso’s national men’s football team is flying the flag of the country at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).

The Stallions have galloped all the way to the semifinals, and are optimistic that their performances so far have provided the people back home with rays of hope amid a tumultuous situation.

“These goings-on give us added motivation,” said Burkinabè coach Kamou Malo following their win over Tunisia in the quarterfinals.

On Monday, 24 January, Burkina Faso’s army announced that it had deposed President Roch Kaboré, who had been in power since 2015. While seizing control of the country, they also dissolved the government and the national assembly, and suspended the constitution.

“We have been dealing with this terrorism for a number of years now and it continues to plunge our people into mourning, so our objective is to give them something to smile about,” the 59-year-old added.

“We won’t hold back if, through our efforts on the field, we can offer some hope… People are already asking me to bring back the trophy and that is what we would love to do.” 

The Burkinabès finished third during their last appearance, in Gabon 2017. After missing the last edition in Egypt, they are aiming to better their best Afcon record – claiming the silver medal in 2013.

To achieve this goal the Stallions must first outmanoeuvre Senegal’s Lions of Teranga in their last-four clash.  

It will be the third Afcon encounter between these nations, but the first in the knockout rounds. Senegal were unbeaten in the previous two encounters when the teams met in the group stages (with one win and one draw).

While the Stallions have impressed since the start of the competition with a fluid, offensive and forward-looking game, the Senegalese had not shown any attacking potency until their impressive 3-1 victory 0ver Equatorial Guinea in their last match.

Lions of Teranga coach Aliou Cissé feels his team is peaking at the right time, and is confident that the pride of Senegal can finally hunt down the trophy that has eluded them for so long. They reached the final in 20o2 and 2019, but are yet to win.

“We prepared well for our semifinal against Burkina Faso, even if we didn’t have a lot of time. We focused on recovery. We know the Burkina Faso team well; they remain a good team that is progressing with good players,” he said.

“We are expecting a difficult match, but we are ready. We hope and work to win this African title. We have never doubted our abilities. Our desire is to play the grand final on 6 February.”

Hosts vs record champions

Should Senegal indeed make it to the grand final they will encounter either hosts Cameroon or seven-time champions Egypt. These juggernauts will clash on Thursday night in the second semifinal.

While the Cameroonians hardly broke a sweat as they dispatched debutants Gambia 2-0 in the quarterfinal, the Egyptians played their second consecutive 120 minutes as they saw off Morocco 2-1 during an intense North African derby that had ended with a one-all draw in regulation time.

To set up that quarterfinal tie, the Pharaohs also played all the way into extra time and penalties against Ivory Coast. As such, fatigue might be a factor for the Egyptians – although captain Mohamed Salah downplayed the implications of the double extra time.

“Playing two games in a row with extra-time is not easy, but I can tell you that we are well and we are having a very good tournament,” said the talismanic forward.

The Egyptians will once again be banking on Salah’s magic to help them to their first final since 2017. Since that edition five years ago, no player has been directly involved in more goals than the Liverpool superstar, who has scored six and assisted three.

The Indomitable Lions have progressed from seven of their nine semifinal matches at Afcon. Only opponents Egypt (eight times) have made it through this round more often in Afcon history. DM

Semifinal fixtures:

Burkina Faso vs Senegal – 2 February (9pm).

Cameroon vs Egypt – 3 February (9pm).

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