On Wednesday night Gabon’s capital Libreville played host to the first semi-final of Afcon 2017. The match had the most successful team in African Cup of nations history pitted against , who were only one game away from reciprocating their best achievement at an Afcon finals.
Egypt were on a 23-game unbeaten run in Afcon competition and were slight favourites as they went into this exciting encounter. But the Burkinabe were not to be underestimated as they’ve shown true grit on their route to the semi-finals.
The first half started in front of a reasonably-sized Gabonese crowd who were rewarded with both teams looking to attack. The Burkinabe had the first shot on goal after a poor punch from the 44-year-old Essam El-Hadary but the veteran goalkeeper did well to recover and deny the Stallions the opener. The opportunities then dried up as the defences held firm and both teams resorted to speculative long range efforts from outside the box. Neither team wanted to concede and that made for a tightly fought contest. As the half time whistle approached both teams looked content to go into the break deadlocked.
The second half saw the Burkinabe look the livelier of the two teams. The Pharaohs continued to sit back, soak up the pressure and play on the counter attack. The tactic paid dividends in the 65th minute as Egypt took the lead. Mohamed Salah curled a spectacular effort past a despairing Herve Koffi. Burkina Faso knew that they had to throw bodies up front as they went in search of an equaliser.
Less than 10 minutes later and the sides were level as the Burkinabe’s relentless pressure paid off with Aristide Bance slotting home from close range for the former Chippa United striker’s second goal in as many matches. As fulltime approached it was The Burkinabe who would have one final opportunity. Banou Diawara deflected the ball goalwards only for Egypt’s evergreen goalkeeper to produce another great save as he tipped the ball over the bar. Extra time was called upon as both teams could not be separated after 90 minutes.
The extra 30 minutes was an exhausting affair. Both teams started to fatigue due to the effects of the high tempo game. The first half of extra time did not produce any meaningful chances, with Egypt in particular, happy to sit back. They allowed the Burkinabe to enjoy the majority of possession throughout extra time as the 22 tired bodies on the field looked to settle for the inevitable penalty shootout.
The resultant shootout saw the 20-year-old Burkinabe goalkeeper face off against a man 24 years his senior. But it was the older man who proved to be the hero. El Hadary denied Koffi and Ajax Amsterdam winger Bertrand Traore, after Egypt’s Abdallah El Said had missed the first penalty of the shootout. The seven-time Afcon champions will now have the chance to extend their record of the most tournaments won when they compete in the final on Sunday.