The business end of the African Nations Cup 2017 kicked off on Saturday evening with the first quarter final set in the Gabonese capital Libreville. A fierce Burkina Faso side took on a technically sound Tunisia. The North Africans had surprised everyone as they played an exciting brand of football throughout the tournament.
It was a bright start with both teams looking to get onto the front foot. The Burkinabe had a glorious chance to open the scoring but Prejuce Nakoulma scuffed his effort high and wide. They continued to grow in confidence and Bertrand Traore almost grabbed the opener. But the Chelsea Academy graduate’s shot could only skim the top of the crossbar. As the half time whistle approached it was the Lions of Carthage who took aim for the elusive goal but the ball went agonisingly wide off the far post. Neither team could break the deadlock in what was a tightly contested opening half.
The second half was a more open encounter. The Stallions looked the livelier of the two sides and threatened the Tunisian defence but they lacked the decisive final ball. It was substitute Aristide Bance’s free kick 10 minutes before the end of the match which saw the deadlock broken. The former Chippa United player had only been on the pitch for four minutes before sending the ball whistling into the bottom corner of the Tunisian net. Bance was an inspired substitution by Burkinabe coach Paulo Duarte as minutes later he was denied a second goal by the post.
The Tunisians knew they had to throw caution to the wind as they went in search of the equaliser. However, it was a blistering Burkina Faso counter attack in the 83rd minute that saw the North Africans crash out. Nakoulma calmly slotted the ball into an open net after beating Tunisian goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi who had found himself in no man’s land. With the final whistle blown the West Africans booked their place in the semi-final.
The second game of the night was a mammoth encounter. when Cameroon took on tournament favourites Senegal. The crowd at the Stade de Franceville were in for a tantalising affair as the two Lions of African football fought valiantly. The opening stanza was a tightly fought physical contest. The Senegalese looked the more confident of the two teams as Cameroon were content to play on the counter attack. Chances were few and far between and with the half finely balanced and neither team able to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
The second half was a more open affair but Senegal continued to dominate. The Indomitable Lions defence stood resolute throughout the half. Cameroonian keeper Fabrice Ondoa denied Stoke City forward Mame Biram Diouf from point blank range. The four time Afcon champions showed they weren’t out of the contest when Benjamin Moukandjo found himself in space but Diallo in the Senegalese goal was equal to the task.
As the final whistle approached the Teranga Lions displayed a look of disbelief as the plucky Cameroonians survived the onslaught of Senegalese pressure. Extra time would be needed as the two African giants could not be separated after 90 minutes.
Both teams began to show signs of fatigue in the first half of extra time as another fifteen minutes of immense defending saw the Indomitable Lions remain in the game. On the stroke of half time Cameroonian Jacques Zoua found himself in space but his shot was superbly saved by impervious Diallo.
The second half was nail-biting but neither team could grab the elusive goal as the game was destined to be decided by a penalty shootout. The dreaded Penalty shootout saw Sadio Mane’s penalty saved by the superb 21 year-old Fabrice Ondoa. Cameroons Vincent Abubakar scored the winning penalty as Cameroon progressed into the semi-finals.