Egypt and Senegal have reached the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) semi-finals, setting the stage for a potential showdown between Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane if their two teams make it to the final.
Salah scored the equaliser and created the winner to inspire Egypt’s comeback to beat Morocco 2-1 after extra time on Sunday’s first quarterfinal at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.
Later, at the same venue, Mane set up Famara Diedhiou for Senegal’s opener in a 3-1 win over Equatorial Guinea. Substitutes Cheikhou Kouyate and Ismaila Sarr finished off Equatorial Guinea, which had drawn level through Jannick Buyla a few minutes after having a penalty awarded and then taken away through a VAR check.
Senegal will now take on Burkina Faso in the first semifinal on Wednesday when Mane’s team will be aiming to make a second straight final – and rid itself of the unwanted label of “the best team to never win an AFCON title”.
For its part, Egypt will face tournament host Cameroon, a repeat of the 2017 final that Cameroon won. Thursday’s semi-final will also be a clash between the two most successful sides in AFCON history, with 12 titles between them.
Egypt has not won the African Cup since its record-extending seventh title in 2010. Salah made his debut for the national team the year after that triumph and is still seeking a first major title with his country.
In Sunday’s quarter-final, Egypt fell behind to Morocco to an early penalty won by Achraf Hakimi and converted by Sofiane Boufal in the seventh minute.
Egypt captain Salah reacted quickly to knock in a rebound to make it 1-1 in the 53rd and sent in a perfect low cross for Mahmoud Hassan “Trezeguet” to tap in near the end of the first half of extra time.
In the other match, Mane’s pass opened up Equatorial Guinea’s defence for centre forward Diedhiou to score in the 28th minute.
Senegal appeared in control but got a first warning when captain Kalidou Koulibaly had a penalty awarded against him in the 50th minute. It was cancelled by referee Victor Gomes after he saw on VAR that Koulibaly’s right hand was down by his side when the ball struck it.
Equatorial Guinea did get its goal seven minutes later but the introduction of Kouyate and Sarr as substitutes paid off big time for Senegal coach Aliou Cisse.
Kouyate put Senegal ahead just three minutes after arriving when he pounced on a miscued defensive header. Sarr finished after brilliant work down the left wing by Saliou Ciss.
Meanwhile, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) gave Olembe Stadium in Yaounde the go-ahead to host Thursday’s second semi-final between Cameroun and Egypt, and the final on February 6 after lifting the temporary suspension of the venue where eight died, including a child, in a stampede on January 24.
“Having noted the recommendations and undertakings from government in regard to additional security provisions … the CAF Organising Committee unanimously agreed to lift the suspension imposed on the Olembe Stadium,” African football’s governing body said in a statement.
“The Local Organising Committee and the government of Cameroon having significantly increased security and resources at the Olembe Stadium, (CAF) are confident that the safety and security of spectators and visitors will be assured.”