Dango Ouattara scored the only goal of the game – and was later sent off – as Burkina Faso defeated Tunisia at the Roumde Adjia Stadium in Garoua on Saturday night to seal a place in the semifinals of the Total Energies Africa Cup of Nations.
The 19-year-old striker netted in injury time at the end of the first half to see the Stallions claim a narrow but deserved triumph, while the Carthage Eagles were unable to produce the kind of inspired play that saw them past Nigeria in the previous round.
Burkina Faso will go on to face either Senegal or Equatorial Guinea (who play each other on Sunday) in the second semifinal on Thursday 3 February. It will be the Stallion’ third appearance in the semis in the past five AFCONs (technically three in four for them, as they failed to qualify for the 2019 tournament).
After a cagey opening quarter hour, Burkina Faso had the first genuine chance when Edmond Tapsoba’s shot from a free kick deflected off the wall and fell kindly for Cyrille Bayala, but his low effort was no trouble for Tunisia goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said.
Bayala had a far more dangerous moment midway through the first half when he skinned Mohamed Drager down the Stallions’ left before firing a low shot on goal from a tight angle which required a sharp save with his legs from Ben Said.
On 27 minutes it was Tunisia’s turn to threaten in attack, with Wahbi Khazri firing a powerful effort on target direct from a free kick, but Burkinabe goalkeeper Herve Koffi turned the shot over the top for a corner kick.
Burkina Faso continued to enjoy some strong forays and on 40 minutes they created an opening for Djibri Ouattara, but his left-footed volley was comfortably saved by the Carthage Eagles ‘keeper.
The first half looked set to end goalless, but in injury time before the interval the Stallions claimed the lead: Blati Toure played a fine through ball to set Dango Ouattara free down the right flank, before the attacker cut inside of defenders Oussama Haddadi and Dylan Bronn and fired home a left-footed shot.
The West Africans should have doubled their lead six minutes after the restart when a fast-paced counter attack set Bayala free down the right of the penalty area, but his shot from a tight angle was blocked by Ben Said to keep Tunisia in the contest.
The North Africans spurned a great chance to level the game on 57 minutes when substitute Naim Sliti drove a dangerous ball into the box which picked out the run of Khazri, but the attacking midfielder fluffed his attempt to get a shot on target.
Eleven minutes later another Tunisia substitute, Ali Maaloul, had a shot on target direct from a free kick, but Koffi made a diving save to keep Burkina Faso in the ascendancy.
The Stallions were dealt a major blow with just under 10 minutes to play when Dango Ouattara was sent off (after a VAR review) for elbowing Maaloul in an aerial challenge, leaving them a man down and under siege for the remainder of regulation time.
However, the Burkinabe defence stood firm in the face of wave after wave of Tunisian attacks and ultimately held out to seal a place in the final four.
Earlier in the late afternoon, host team Cameroon powered into the semifinals of the tournament after they defeated the Gambia 2-0 at the Japoma Stadium.
Karl Toko Ekambi was the hero for the Indomitable Lions, netting two goals early in the second half to end the fairytale run of the Scorpions, who have massively overachieved on their tournament debut and will leave the Afcon with their heads held high.
Cameroon will now face either Egypt or Morocco (who meet tomorrow evening in their quarterfinal clash) in the first semifinal in Yaounde on Wednesday, 2 February.
After a tame start, Cameroon began to build attacking rhythm and momentum around the quarter-hour mark and should have claimed the lead at that time, with Nicolas Moumi Ngamaleu’s cross from the right finding Vincent Aboubakar, but the striker’s flicked effort deflected off defender James Gomez and away to safety.
On 29 minutes, the Indomitable Lions’ Collins Fai tried his luck from long range and sent a powerful effort just wide of Baboucarr Gaye’s left-hand post – though the goalkeeper appeared to have the shot covered had it been on target.
Two minutes later, Cameroon danger man Vincent Aboubakar got in front of Gomez to meet a cross from the right and glanced a header just wide of the target, as the hosts continued to probe in attack and search for a way to draw first blood.
Aboubakar thought he must have done just that on 36 minutes when he met a fine cross from Samuel Oum Gouet and powered a header on target, only to be denied by a brilliant – if somewhat unorthodox – save from Gaye, who had no time to react but spread himself in anticipation and somehow kept the effort out.
Cameroon kept up the pressure in the remainder of the first half, but the interval arrived with the scoreline still blank.
However, the Indomitable Lions needed just five minutes of the second stanza to break through: Fai’s cross from the right found the head of Karl Toko Ekambi, who then directed a header past the right hand of Gaye to put the hosts in charge.
Gambia responded with a triple change on 56 minutes, but in the confusion of trying to sort out their formation, they conceded a second goal just a few moments later, as Martin Hongla got free down the left and provided a low cross for Toko Ekambi to fire home and make it 2-0.
The second goal seemed to remove all jeopardy from the game: the Gambia were still game to try and mount a comeback, but a more relaxed Cameroon settled into a steady passing rhythm and continued to create chances, including Aboubakar shooting just wide with a curling left-footed shot on 73 minutes.
The host team’s skipper had a great chance to put home a third goal in the dying minutes and continue his scoring form, latching onto a rebound after Gaye had denied substitute Clinton N’Jie, but he fired over the target.
Nonetheless, it remained a day to celebrate for the Indomitable Lions, who have moved one step closer to the dream of winning the Nations Cup on home soil. (Backpage TXT)