After an exciting night of football, Senegal beat Burkina Faso 3-1 to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations final.
2019’s defeated finalists are back in the showpiece hoping to claim their first-ever title.
1. Super Mané
It can’t be easy carrying the hopes of an entire nation on your shoulders. Yet you’d never know for watching Sadio Mané at the Africa Cup of Nations. Tonight against Burkina Faso the no. 10 was simply unreal. He was everywhere, floating about the pitch never once looking like someone playing under any kind of pressure.
Mané’s movement between lines, away from markers, was just delicious. Burkina Faso could barely keep a lid on him for the first hour, but after that he took the game over.
His determined dribbling, driving away from defenders like they weren’t even there, led directly to Senegal scoring their second when he powered his way around his man and then tip-toed his way along the touchline before selflessly finding Idrissa Gueye to score.
Sadio Mané's game by numbers vs. #TeamBurkinaFaso
100% shot accuracy
5 take-ons completed (most)
5 chances created (most)
3 shots on target (most)
3 fouls won
2 tackles made
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 2, 2022
And then, after Burkina Faso have pulled one goal back and possibly set-up a very spicy finish, guess who appeared? When Senegal needed a hero, a hero duly appeared. Mané raced through onto Ismaila Sarr’s through-ball and then coolly and camly lofted the ball up and over the onrushing goalkeeper to settle the tie and send his nation into the Africa Cup of Nations final.
Don’t rule out Super Mané dominating the final, too.
2. Centre-backs leading the way
While Mané took over for the last 20 minutes of the game, the table was superbly set for him by his centre-backs. In fact Kalidou Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo have been leading the way for Senegal all tournament long with their rock solid defensive play.
Tonight, however, they added the spicy topping of goals to their repertoire. With Senegal in desperate need of a goal, it was obvious that Koulibaly would step up and deliver… an overhead kick in the box? To send a loose ball goalward where Abdou Diallo would control and smack it home? It sounds ridiculous to explain, that two centre-backs could combine in such a way, but that’s what happened.
If these two can start adding goals to their obscene repertoire of defensive dominance at once physical, mental, technical and tactical… then forget the AFCON final, you can start thinking about the World Cup final!
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3. VAR to the rescue
VAR is often a controversial tool, with fans bemoaning the excessive delays before decisions are given, and others wondering why clear mistakes are not corrected by VAR, or or or or… there’s always something.
But today we saw the value of VAR. Twice in the first-half the referee gave penalties for Senegal, first after a 50/50 colission between goalkeeper and striker, and then for an alleged handball from Edmond Tapsoba.
Neither decision was correct, and upon review by VAR, the referee reversed both decisions. That is exactly how VAR should be used: to correct onfield errors and allow games to progress with as few mistakes as possible.
4. Tapsoba shows his class
He may be heading home following a 3-1 defeat, but Edmond Tapsoba can hold his head high. The Burkinabe centre-back was nothing less than phenomenal against Senegal, putting in the kind of powerhouse defensive display that will be attracting suitors from around Europe.
Tapsoba was almost ever-present in the Burkina Faso area. Whenever Senegal would send the ball into the area, 95% of the time it was Tapsoba who would appear to clear the ball or make a block or a tackle.
The 6’4 centre-back has a contract until 2026 with Bayer Leverkusen, but given how well he played at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, it’s very hard to see him staying at the club beyond this summer.
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5. Senegal marching to glory
As Egypt and Cameroon battle it out for the right to join Senegal in Sunday’s final, there is definitely an element of fate about the way Senegal have approached the Cup of Nations. They’ve not been the best team, but they’ve been absurdly solid in defence, almost as if they were preparing for the knockout rounds.
So yes, just one win and one goal in the group stages. But none conceded. Then none conceded in the quarter-finals plus a couple of goals. Then tonight they bagged three and although they let one slip, it never really shifted momentum to the point where you felt they would throw the game away.
Senegal came into the tournament with the strongest side and as one of the favourites. And while they have played within themselves in general, today they unfurled their offensive firepower and were it not for Edmond Tapsoba they would have blown Burkina Faso away.
As it turns out they had to make do with a 3-1 win, and now they are in the final and fully brimming with confidence. They have the best defence at the tournament, the best centre-backs, the best goalkeeper and a midfield consisting of three defensive midfielders. That is ridiculous, but then consider that in Sadio Mané they also have one of the very best players in the world, let alone the Cup of Nations.
Senegal are marching to glory.