Thirsty Senegal tackle Tunisia in blockbuster Cairo battle

SEN TUN

Senegal’s Lions of Teranga face Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles in a mouth watering Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Egypt 2019 semi-final at the June 30 Stadium in Cairo on Sunday evening hoping to do better and get to their second ever final.

Senegal hold the unwanted record of paying the most Africa Cup of Nations games without winning the title. They have only progressed to the final once in their four previous sujourns in the semis, and penning down a second final in their history tops their agenda.

The Lions of Teranga and Tunisia meet in an AFCON match for the sixth time in their history and the odds are pretty even in terms of head to head. Each side has won one of the last five, while the remaining three ended in draws.

The last meeting between these two sides was at the group stages of the last AFCON in Gabon in 2017, with Senegal running off 2-0 winners in Franceville.

But, their meeting two years later comes with increased stakes with Senegal eager to write history while Tunisia, who are playing their first semi-final since they won it in 2004 are also eager to chalk their second AFCON victory.

Tactically, it will be a battle of wits between Allaine Giresse and Cisse. Senegal’s strength throughout this tournament has come from the depth in their midfield and the finishing prowess of their goal poacher Sadio Mane who has found the back of the net three times already. Mane should be on five, had he converted two penalties he missed.

For Tunisia, their engines have been running on Wahbi Khazri and skipper Youssef Msakni’s fuel and this has been their threat all through the tournament.

Road to the final:

Tunisia started the tournament limping and were lucky that drawing all their three matches in Pool E was just enough to take them through in second place, one point ahead of Angola and four behind group winners Mali.

But the Carthage Eagles seemed to pick up pace as the tournament progressed and took Ghana through the full length in the round of 16 before winning on penalties. They then made easy work of debutants Madagascar in the quarter finals, beating them 3-0.

Senegal on their end also finished second in their group but with six points courtesy of victories over Tanzania and Kenya in Pool C. Their only loss was a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Algeria.

In the round of 16, they were made to work but eventually won 1-0 against Uganda, before replicating a similar scoreline against a hard fighting Benin.

Players to watch:

For Senegal, it definitely has to be their main man Mane. The Liverpool forward is simmering in some sizzling form, having bagged the English Premier League golden boot and helped his club to the UEFA Champions League title.

Mane has scored thrice, but missed penalties against Kenya and Uganda. Against Benin, he had a goal ruled out and missed two one on one chances.

Also a core figure of the side is defender Kalidou Coulibaly whose beastly nature has been the main reason Senegal have conceded just once, the lone goal against Algeria.

Going forward, Tunisia’s main threat is that one man Wahbi Khazri. The 28-year old has been aging like fine wine, getting better with age. He was the main actor upfront against Madagascar, playing a key role in all the three goals.

Against Ghana in the round of 16, he came off the bench to change the face of the game, when Ghana seemed to be dominating and ensured Tunisia were more dangerous upfront.

Also to be looked out is midfielder Ferjani Sassi who more or less is playing at home in Egypt as he turns out for local giants Zamalek. Sassi’s prowess in midfield has given Tunisia a much needed backbone.

What they said:

Alain Giresse (Tunisia coach):

I know Senegal's players very well, but on the pitch it's something else. We want to continue our adventure at this AFCON though we know we are going to face a very good Senegal team. For us, we also have a complete team with good depth.

I have experience in playing high level matches and major competitions including the AFCON and this will allow me to manage the pressure of the match.

Yassine Khenissi (Tunisia striker):

This match will be decided with small details, and I hope we will be ready to achieve a perfect performance to qualify for the finals of the most prestigious tournament in Africa. This match against Senegal will be different compared to the one we played against Madagascar. It will be a more difficult match, but we will play with determination to be in the final.

Aliou Cissé (Senegal coach):

We are now close to our goal at this competition, but before it we will face a difficult match against Tunisia. We will continue working the same way we have been working since the beginning of the competition. Tunisian football has evolved, it's true that we beat them in 2017, but this is a different game.

Lamine Gassama (Senegal defender):

The Senegal team has been working well for a number of years. We have been evolving since then and we must build on what we can do. Tunisia has many quality players and wants to go far. For us, we have to create a new page of Senegalese football history and go all the way to the final.