With just one week left in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), things are shaping up to be exceedingly interesting with a wide-open field.
Defending champions Algeria will not be repeating their 2019 feat, having been unable to make it out of the group stage and finishing rock bottom of the Group E table with just one point. Tunisia, who finished fourth in 2019, face similar woes. Despite a sub-par performance in the group stage, Tunisia managed to qualify for the round of 16 by the skin of their teeth, taking the last round of 16 spot. In an ironic turn of events, Tunisia then proceeded to knock out Nigeria in a 1-0 game (Nigeria having previously beaten Tunisia 1-0 in the 2019 AFCON third-place match). Their luck, however, ran out on Saturday, and Tunisia is out of the AFCON after a 1-0 loss to Burkina Faso.
Hosts Cameroon, however, are looking at rather good odds. Having made it out of the group stage sitting at the top of the Group A table, Cameroon proceeded to overcome a defiant Comoros 2-1 in the round of 16. The hosts then put up a comfortable 2-0 win over Gambia in last Saturday’s quarterfinal match thanks to a brace by Karl Toko Ekambi, and guaranteed themselves a semifinal place. Similarly, aforementioned Burkina Faso are performing well. Finishing second in Group A behind Cameroon, Burkina Faso gave themselves a scare when a 1-0 lead against 10-man Gabon in the round of 16 was squandered in the first minute of added time by an unfortunate own goal by Adama Guira, but they were ultimately able to edge past Gabon 7-6 on penalties. With a convincing 1-0 win over Tunisia in the quarterfinals despite lower possession, Burkina Faso earned themselves a semifinal spot, where they will play the winner of the Senegal-Equatorial Guinea match.
Although the results of the Senegal-Equatorial Guinea match are still up in the air, the odds are certainly in Senegal’s favor. While Senegal finished the group stage at the top of the Group B table and put up a comfortable 2-0 win over Cape Verde in the round of 16, Equatorial Guinea finished second in Group E behind Ivory Coast and barely edged past Mali 5-6 on penalties on Wednesday. History is also in Senegal’s favor. Although neither side has won the AFCON, Senegal has been the runner-up twice (the last time being in 2019, when the AFCON was last held), while Equatorial Guinea’s highest-ever finish was fourth in 2015. Regardless, nothing is set in stone and Equatorial Guinea may manage to overcome the odds. To do so, however, they will need to put up a very solid performance. Ultimately, this match is Senegal’s to lose.
The match between Egypt and Morocco was a tough contest for both sides. Although Morocco took an early lead when Sofiane Boufal converted from the spot, Egypt drew level with an equalizer by Mohamed Salah in the 53rd minute. Tensions ran high in the last 15 minutes of regular time, and a foul by Egypt led to a brief confrontation between players on both sides, as well as several yellow cards. A fantastic run and cross by Mo Salah in the 100th minute finished off by Trézéguet gave Egypt the 2-1 lead, to which Morocco could not answer. Egypt will face Cameroon in the semifinal match on Thursday, with the former looking to claim their first AFCON title since their back-to-back-to-back streak from 2006 to 2010, and the latter looking to replicate their 2017 feat of overcoming Egypt, as well as taking the AFCON title.
The stakes are monumental for all of the teams headed for the AFCON 2021 semifinals, and the matches are sure to be exciting contests.