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Preview: Burkina Faso and Senegal meet for a spot in AFCON 2021 final

West African football will be the main attraction on Wednesday at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations as Burkina Faso attempt to take down pre-tournament favorites Senegal in Yaoundé. Senegal are finally beginning to produce what was expected of them and appear to be picking up their form at the perfect time following an excellent second half in their 3-1 defeat of Equatorial Guinea in the quarterfinals. Les Étalons of Burkina Faso pulled off a brilliant tactical victory over Tunisia in their quarterfinal matchup and are determined to make their second AFCON final.

A semifinal appearance is not enough for Senegalese supporters, who want their team to finally breakthrough and win Africa’s showcase competition after finishing as runners-up in the 2019 edition. The good news for Senegal is that despite a slow start to the tournament, superstar forward Sadio Mané remains influential and is putting in an inspired effort. Mané remarked that he is willing to sacrifice to help the team capture their first AFCON and the Liverpool player will be all over the pitch to make his impact felt.

Another factor influencing Senegal’s positive change in form is the return of Watford FC winger Ismaïla Sarr, who marked his first appearance in Cameroon with a late goal against Equatorial Guinea. Crystal Palace central midfielder Cheikhou Kouyaté also scored after coming on as a substitute, and will likely be rewarded with a spot in the starting eleven of manager Aliou Cissé. The key for the Teranga Lions will be finding a balance between attacking on the wings and making progress through the middle. Full backs Saliou Ciss and Bouna Sarr are proven attacking threats but Senegal’s poor early form in Cameroon was due to the lack of a firm connection between its three-player lines in the midfield and attack.

The Burkina Faso squad are looking to continue their run to uplift the Burkinabé people back home, who have been celebrating the team’s success even as a military coup is changing the political landscape in Ouagadougou. Many view the team’s semifinal appearance as a surprise, but manager Kamou Malo did brilliantly to explore the Burkinabé player pool during 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying when the team was missing stars Bertrand Traoré and Lassina Traoré due to long-term injuries. The team’s victory over Tunisia came without Bertrand Traoré on the pitch, but the Aston Villa player was available on the bench and should be back in the lineup for Wednesday’s match.

In addition to the return of Traoré, Issoufou Dayo is training normally as well as the team’s other excellent center back, Edmond Tapsoba. Dayo has not been in the lineup since the group stage and his return will form a central defense partnership that may just be the best among African national teams. Tapsoba’s ability in possession is a crucial part of the Burkinabé strategy, as the Bayer Leverkusen player is an excellent distributor for starting counter-attacks. Look for the Stallions to try and exploit the attacking tendencies of Senegal’s full backs by getting behind them with quick direct play after winning the ball.

Key Matchup: Sadio Mané (SEN) vs. Edmond Tapsoba (BFA)

It is inevitable that these two will duel throughout the match, but for Burkina Faso it is all about tracking Mané as he drifts around looking to influence the match. Burkinabé central midfielders Blati Touré and Adama Guira will play a big role in attempting to prevent Mané from having space to provide the final pass to fellow Senegalese forwards Famara Diedhiou and Ismaïla Sarr.

Prediction: Burkina Faso 1-1 Senegal (Burkina Faso wins via penalty kicks)

Burkina Faso v Senegal – For a place in the final (CAF Online)
Match Facts – Burkina Faso v Senegal (CAF Online)

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