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Preview: Semifinal spot on the line as Burkina Faso meet Tunisia in Garoua

A high stakes clash between West Africa and North Africa will take place in the later quarterfinal matchup on Saturday between Burkina Faso and Tunisia at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Tunisia did just enough to get into the knockout stages following a disappointing group stage but a Round of 16 upset over favorites Nigeria has propelled the Carthage Eagles back into contention. For Les Étalons of Burkina Faso, the team will be competing for a semifinal spot to please their supporters back home following a coup that has the nation undergoing a political transition.

The Burkinabé team did brilliantly to keep their nerve in a penalty kick shootout victory over Gabon in the Round of 16, and now the Stallions will attempt to repeat their feat at the 2017 AFCON quarterfinals when they knocked off Tunisia by a 2-0 score. Manager Kamou Malo received a phone call from new Burkinabé president Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who gave the manager encouragement ahead of the match. Veteran midfielder Adama Guira remarked that the team wants to give joy to the Burkinabé people and that experienced players like himself will help the younger players be prepared for the occasion.

A big question heading into the match is the availability of captain Bertrand Traoré, who was forced off against Gabon due to injury. The latest news appears to indicate the Aston Villa attacker will be fit and important center back Issoufou Dayo may also return to the lineup after missing the Round of 16 due to a calf injury. If Dayo can return to partner with the excellent Edmond Tapsoba in the center of defense, Burkina Faso will be a very difficult team to break down. The Stallions will attempt to catch Tunisia on the break with direct play to utilize the strengths of Traoré and 19-year-old rising talent Dango Ouattara, whose dribbling ability made a great impact against Gabon.

Tunisia have struggled with form and Covid-19 throughout the competition, but the Carthage Eagles showed excellent composure and resilience to shutout a fearsome Nigerian attack on their way to a 1-0 victory. Covid-19 will once again impact the selection of manager Mondher Kebaier, who is also returning to the sidelines himself after missing out against Nigeria. Central defender Montassar Talbi, one of the few players to have played in every match, tested positive and it appears the 23-year-old will join midfielder Ghailene Chaalali and full back Ali Abdi as notable absences.

However, the good news is that attackers Wahbi Khazri and Naïm Sliti should be back at full fitness to give Kebaier options up top along with captain Youssef Msakni. The Tunisia squad continues to get stronger as more players recover from an earlier outbreak, making the Carthage Eagles a dangerous side. Tunisia’s main question mark remains in goal where Bechir Ben Saïd has struggled to impress, but a strong defense has shielded the US Monastir shot stopper well.

Key Matchup: Edmond Tapsoba (BFA) vs. Wahbi Khazri (TUN)

Nothing seems to rattle Tapsoba in the center of the Burkinabé defense and the 22-year-old will need to once again be solid for the Stallions to progress. Tapsoba and his teammates will need to keep both Khazri and Youssef Msakni from finding space centrally in order for the Tunisian attack to be successfully stopped, a possibility considering Tunisia’s struggles in converting possession to goals.

Prediction: Burkina Faso 1-1 Tunisia (Burkina Faso wins by penalties)

Further Reading

Burkina Faso v Tunisia – The Road to Final Four (CAF Online)
Match Facts – Burkina Faso v Tunisia (CAF Online)
Burkina Faso – Tunisie: Bertrand Traoré sera là (Sportdrome)
Tactique: L’approche doit- elle changer ? (La Presse)

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