The quarter-final games at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon left us with many a talking point, and our writers at Ink & Kicks sum up what we saw by picking winners for the following categories.
See whether you agree with us… or not.
GAME OF THE ROUND: EGYPT VS. MOROCCO
Egypt came from behind to beat neighbours Morocco for a chance to face Cameroon in the semi-finals.
Achraf Hakimi — Morocco’s standout performer in the competition — was fouled three minutes into the game to win a penalty, one that was strangely ruled out by referee Maguette N’Diaye until the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) overturned the initial decision.
Sofiane Boufal converted from the spot for his third (and last) goal of these finals, and Egypt needed their captain and talisman, Mohamed Salah, to help turn the game around. The Liverpool man obliged, securing parity with a simple tap-in after a rebound fell to him shortly before the end of the opening hour.
No winner had emerged by full-time, so the game continued another half-hour, and it was seven-time champions Egypt who had the last laugh. Salah, provider this time, arced a delicious low cross into the path of his fellow Premier League star, Trezeguet.
Advancing into position as Salah made progress from the right by getting the better of Morocco’s Naif Aguerd, Aston Villa’s Trezeguet had the easy task of tucking the ball home at the far post to complete Egypt’s comeback.
It was a game that swung one way and then the other, complete with all those controversial bits and heated exchanges that made it difficult — if not altogether impossible — to look away, even for a second.
In truth, though, such a keenly anticipated encounter between two heavyweights couldn’t have played out at a higher temperature.
RESULT OF THE ROUND: BURKINA FASO 1-0 TUNISIA
All may not be well back home, but Burkina Faso’s national team is absolutely cruising at AFCON 2021, and they went one better over the weekend by beating Tunisia in Garoua.
That wasn’t achieved by sitting back and trying to hold off more pedigreed opposition, with a commitment to self-expression proving instrumental in the latest success of head coach Kamou Malo and his team.
The Stallions’ galloped swiftly with their counter-attacks and had a clear outlet, with Dango Ouattara hanging on the edge of the Tunisian defence. The 19-year-old made intelligent runs — relying on impressive acceleration in his youthful legs — to get into threatening positions, then showed the quality on the ball required to make the most of these openings.
Ouattara’s match-winner — the game’s only goal, in fact — resulted from one of such situations, just prior to recess, before he was sent off in the second half for recklessly thrusting his elbow into Tunisia defender Ali Maaloul.
Ouattara will, thus, miss Burkina Faso’s third AFCON semi-final in nine years, but he has afforded his country and his team the license to dream; the Burkinabe seldom return empty-handed when they make it this far and so they’d fancy their chances.
For now, though, they’ll savour this seemingly improbable result and what it means.
TEAM OF THE ROUND: CAMEROON
For all of Cameroon’s swagger and bite at AFCON 2021, the Indomitable Lions left a bit of doubt going into their quarter-final clash against Gambia on Saturday.
Antonio Conceicao’s side struggled against Comoros — a lowly opponent so ravaged by COVID-19 that a left-back had to play in goal, only to be weakened some more by an early red card — in the Round of 16, making their ensuing clash with Gambia not so straightforward to predict.
Gambia’s own successes against stronger opposition in earlier stages of the competition opened the window for a possible surprise in Douala a little wider, but the Cameroonians were in no mood to let that happen.
Class, they say, is permanent, and Cameroon made that count against Gambia. The hosts put on the complete show, dominating possession and creating several chances, registering seven shots on target to Gambia’s zero.
More decisively, Cameroon scored twice, with Karl Toko Ekambi’s brace reducing the scoring charts to a showdown between the Lyon star and his national team captain, Vincent Aboubakar.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND: SADIO MANE
Not too long before Senegal and Equatorial Guinea did battle in the last of the four quarter-finals, the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo had been illuminated by the blinding brilliance of Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian contributed a goal and a sumptuous assist to settle an intensely contested all-North African tie with Morocco in favour of the Pharaohs.
In the minutes between that game and the next, at the same venue, Salah and Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane ran into each other and shared a moment — even grabbing a quick snap — but it appears the latter picked up some much-needed inspiration, too, for the task ahead.
If Salah shone against the Moroccans, Mane was no less — perhaps even more — radiant in helping his side avoid a slip-up against an opponent that had proved a banana peel for a couple of the competition’s other favourites in earlier rounds.
This, by far, was Senegal’s best performance at the ongoing AFCON, and Mane — who made a quick recovery from the concerning head injury suffered in the previous game — was at the very heart of it, driving the Lions of Teranga to roar their loudest yet in Cameroon.
The highlight of his night was that clever pass slipped through to set up Famara Diedhiou for the first of Senegal’s three goals, but everything else the 29-year-old did — covering each blade of grass and orchestrating Senegal’s attacking play — was just as telling about just the sort of player that Mane is: truly world-class, and one of Africa’s best.