Burkina Faso scored twice in the closing stages to beat Tunisia 2-0 yesterday and become the first qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals. Substitute Aristide Bance scored on 81 minutes after a controversially awarded free-kick with big-screen replays suggesting the hand-ball decision was wrong.
Prejuce Nakoulma doubled the lead three minutes later in Libreville with a breakaway goal to clinch a semi-final against Egypt or Morocco next Wednesday.
The goalless first half of the quarter-final produced more yellow cards than clear cut chances at the Stade de l’Amitie in a hot and humid Gabonese capital.
Tunisians Aymen Abdennour, Mohamed Ali Yakoubi and Syam Ben Youssef were cautioned by the South African referee, as was Burkinabe Charles Kabore. Bertrand Traore, a Chelsea midfielder on loan to Dutch giants Ajax, came closest to scoring for Burkina Faso midway through the half. Nakoulma did the spadework by muscling past two Tunisians and Traore turned smartly in a crowded goalmouth to fire just over.
Burkina Faso had a narrow escape on 34 minutes when Taha Yassine Khenissi flicked a corner across the goal and Yakoubi just failed to connect. Soon after, Burkinabe Issoufou Dayo had the ball in the net after a free-kick, but the Tunisians were relieved to see the flag raised for a clear offside.
Having had less possession in the first half, Burkina Faso reversed the trend as the second half unfolded, pushing forward without really threatening to score. The fifth yellow card of the match went to Burkinabe Yacouba Coulibaly, the only local-based footballer in the Burkinabe starting line-up.
Most of the 10,015 crowd was backing Burkina Faso and they showed great excitement when giant striker Bance replaced Cyrille Bayala on 76 minutes.
It proved an inspired substitution by Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte as much-travelled Bance broke the deadlock five minutes after coming off the bench. Bertrand Traore pushed a free-kick just outside the area to the Ivory Coast-born striker and he hammered a low shot past Tunisia goalkeeper and captain Aymen Mathlouthi.
Burkina Faso doubled the lead three minutes later when Nakoulma broke clear, raced past Mathlouthi, who had charged from his box, and stroked the ball into an empty net.
Renard eyes semis spot with Morocco
Herve Renard will be hoping to move a step closer to winning a third Africa Cup of Nations crown when he leads Morocco into a quarter-final against Egypt in Port-Gentil on today. The dashing Frenchman eliminated the Ivory Coast, the side he led to the title in 2015, as Morocco made the knockout phase of a Cup of Nations for the first time since 2004.
Also the architect of Zambia’s unlikely triumph in Gabon in 2012, Renard’s aim now is to become the first coach to win the title three times with three different countries.
It would be another triumph against the odds, given the number of key players Morocco lost to injury before jetting off to Gabon, but they displayed their fighting qualities to make it out of their group.
Morocco’s north African rivals Egypt have been a difficult team to break down under Hector Cuper and progressed from their group without conceding a goal.
Hopes are now beginning to rise back home that the Pharaohs can mark their return to the competition after a seven-year absence by winning a record eighth title.
Egypt’s only win in five previous Cup of Nations matches against Morocco came in a 1986 semi-final on home soil. Ghana will face DR Congo earlier today in the other quarters. Ghana are hopeful of having skipper Asamoah Gyan back fit from the thigh injury that forced him off in the first half of Wednesday’s defeat to Egypt.
DR Congo have arguably been the most impressive side in the tournament thus far and Grant has warned his men, runners-up in 2015, that their recent record will count for nothing.
Burkina Faso’s Aristide Bance (left) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final match against Tunisia at the Stade de l’Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville, Gabon yesterday. (AFP)