The Terranga Lions of Senegal have pipped the Carthage Eagles 1-0 to qualify for the final of the ongoing African Cup of Nations hosted by Egypt.
In the tension-soaked encounter at the June 30 Stadium in Cairo, both teams played a barren draw at the end of the regular 90 minutes, but a Dylan Bronn own goal inside 10 minutes of added time dimmed the chances of the North Africans to play at the finals for the first time since 2004, when they won the competition on home soil.
There was more drama in the final six minutes of the game when initially, referee Bamlak Tessema had given Tunisia a penalty following an apparent handball, but after consulting the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in what was to be the first ever VAR decision in the tournament, turned over for a Senegal ball,
The Carthage Eagles will now play in the losers’ final on Wednesday while the West Africans will be playing the winner of the other semi final clash between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Foxes of Algeria in their first AFCON final since 2002.
— CAF (@CAF_Online) July 14, 2019
— CAF (@CAF_Online) July 14, 2019
A fully contested tie saw the two sides miss a penalty each late in the second half, eight minutes apart. Tunisia had the first after 72 minutes which Ferjani Sassi missed while Senegal had their own in the 80th minute, missed by Henri Saivet.
Senegal, who are yet to win any Cup of Nations title despite playing the most number of matches at the flagship African tourney can now dare dream as their tactician Aliou Cisse makes history by playing in two finals as a player (2002) and now as a coach.
Senegal should have been up by at least two goals by half time. The Lions of Teranga had literally the lion’s share of possession and chances in the opening 45 with one of the three tournament top scorers Sadio Mane having the best of the evening.
In the 37th minute, the Liverpool forward glided past Tunisian keeper Hassen Mouez off a Mbaye Niang pass, but his eventual effort went wide. Just a minute before that, Niang had a good chance when off Mane’s touch from a Youssouf Sabaly cross, his shot on the half turn skied .
Even before these two golden chances, Senegal had rattled the bar. In one of his many forays upfield from the left, Sabaly cut into some good shooting range but his rasping curling shot came thundering against the upright.
Tunisia didn’t create much, save for some two half chances after being forced to play on the back foot for most of the first half. In the 21st minute, Dylan Bronn’s header off a Wahbi Khazri freekick was deflected over and from the resultant corner, Youssef Msakni headed over.
Tunisia seemed to have picked a lesson or two from their first half performance as they came back stronger. Just two minutes after the restart they had a golden opportunity when the ball was planted behind Koulibaly in defense but Taha Khenissi lifted the ball over with only the keeper to beat.
Three minutes later, Sassi had a shot from the edge of the area saved after Tunisia turned over possession. In the 65th minute they had another golden chance when Sassi’s backheel found sub Naim Slitti, but his effort at gliding past the keeper was awry as the shot stopper gathered on the ground.
The best opportunity came in the 72nd minute when Sassi’s shot was blocked by Koulibaly’s arms, the ref pointing to the spot. Sassi stepped over and took a tame shot that was easily saved by Amigo Gomes.
On the other end five minutes later, it was Senegal’s turn when substitute Ismaila Sarr was brought down but Saivet’s effort was saved by a full stretched Mouez.
With no winner in regulation time, the match went to the full length and it was Senegal who would make the most of their luck after 100 minutes of football. Skipper Cheikou Kouyate’s freekick from the right bounced on Bronn’s header with keeper Mouez off his line.
Senegal managed the remaining minutes and the second half of added time to keep their dream of a maiden title alive, even with some late nerves that were calmed by the VAR.
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Political Journalist, Analyst and Social Change Advocate with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.