Having seen off Benin and Madagascar, respectively, in the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations, Senegal and Tunisia faced each other to battle it out for the privilege of playing in the final and fighting for the trophy itself.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse chose the following lineup:
Alfred Gomis was in goal. Kalidou Koulibaly and Cheikhou Kouyate formed the centre-back tandem, with Youssouf Sabaly on their left and Lamine Gassama on the right. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Badou Ndiaye joined Henri Saivet in midfield, while upfront, M’Baye Niang was flanked by Sadio Mane and Krepin Diatta.
Alain Giresse in the Tunisia dugout put Mouez Hassen between the posts. Yassine Meriah and Dylan Bronn formed the last line of defence together with Oussama Haddadi and Mohamed Draeger on the flanks. Ellyes Skhiri anchored the midfield also consisting of Ayman Ben Mohamed and Ferjani Sassi. Wahbi Khazri, Youssef Msakni and Taha Yassine Khenissi formed a fluid front line.
The First Half
Senegal took control of the game straight from the start. They played very directly, and though Tunisia defended with notable determination and limited their chances, Giresse’s team were hard put to it to save their skins early on as Senegal pressed high, won possession and threw attack after attack at them.
However, after around 12 minutes Tunisia seemed to have weathered the storm and took a bit of meaningful possession in the opposition half. Yet, there were still no chances at either end. Senegal mostly tried through quick combinations but their concentration failed them, while Tunisia threatened a few times from set-pieces, most notably in the 22nd minute when Msakni squandered a free header from close range. But the moment breathed some life into the contest.
Senegal hit back dangerously four minutes later as Sabaly cut inside from the left and curved a right-footed effort towards the far top corner, beating Hassen and hitting the post. Tunisia had a penalty appeal soon afterwards after Khenissi went down under contact from Kouyate, but referee Bamlak Tessema Weyesa from Ethiopia wasn’t interested.
Another period of Senegalese domination followed, but there were no real chances until minute 37th when Mane broke into the box from the left and enabled Niang to turn and fire, but the striker missed the target. Less than a minute later, Mane latched onto a great pass from Gueye and rounded the ‘keeper, but he lost his balance at the crucial moment and failed to put the ball into the gaping net.
Soon afterwards, Koulibaly whipped a good long ball in behind and Mane gave chase again. Draeger couldn’t catch up with the Liverpool forward, so he opted to push him from behind right onto the onrushing Hassen, and the Tunisia goalkeeper took the brunt of it. He was knocked to the ground and required medical assistance before he could continue.
The rest of the half, including two minutes of stoppage time, yielded no excitement.
The Second Half
Giresse decided to start the second period in a different setup. Msakni made way for Naim Sliti, a classic striker.
However, it was Khedissi who almost gave his team the lead just three minutes from the restart as Draeger’s long pass found him running between Koulibaly and Kouyate, but he failed to control his lob properly. Tunisia threatened dangerously again within 90 seconds as Khazri took the ball forward and involved Khedissi on the right, and Khedissi employed Sassi just inside the box. The midfielder rounded Kouyate and blasted into the bottom corner, forcing an excellent save from Gomis.
Senegal shook that early pressure off and started forcing Tunisia back again after around 10 minutes, and they soon had a great chance of their own as Niang’s cunning back-heel sent Mane in behind, but Hassen stopped the Senegalese winger again.
Nonetheless, the upturn in Tunisia’s game continued and they soon started threatening again. Khedissi and Sliti both had good chances but the Senegal defence reacted well on both occasions.
As time went on, the contest was becoming more cynical, and it was really surprising not to see the referee book Ben Mohamed of Tunisia, who deliberately took out opposition players twice in quick succession. It was Khazri who eventually got his name written down in the 64th minute.
A minute later, Khedissi wasted the best chance of the game up to that point. His runs in behind had become a glaring problem for the Senegal defence and they still hadn’t figured out how to deal with it, and he latched onto another good pass as he broke infront of Gomis. However, he hesitated too much and the Senegal goalkeeper was able to dispossess him too easily.
The game was starting to fall back into a slow tempo when Tunisia suddenly sprang into life in the 73rd minute and Sassi blasted goalwards from the edge of the box. Koulibaly slid into the path of the ball and it hit him on the arm, prompting the referee to blow his whistle and point to the spot. Sassi took the penalty, in such a fashion that Gomis had absolutely no trouble saving it.
Four minutes later, Ismaila Sarr (on for Diatta from the 68th minute) broke into the box and went past a few opponents until he was brought down clumsily by Bronn. The referee once again blew the whistle and awarded another penalty, this time to Senegal. As Sadio Mane had already missed two penalties in the tournament, he left this one for Saivet, and though Saivet’s shot was much more difficult to save than Sassi’s, it made no difference – Hassen was successful. After two penalties, the score miraculously remained goalless.
Passions were running high towards the end, and the referee’s whistle was heard cutting the flow of the contest perhaps too often.
A minute before the 90 were up, Saivet almost made amends for the wasted penalty with a volley from the same distance at an angle, but all he managed to hit was the outside of the net. The three minutes of stoppage time brought a late Tunisia charge, but Senegal held on.
Tunisia tried to keep momentum they had at the end of the 90 minutes as the added 30 started. Nonetheless, it was Senegal who threatened first through Mane who beat Bronn on the left and employed Gueye in the box, but the Everton midfielder stumbled and lost the ball.
The moment gave Cisse’s men some belief and they moved forward in numbers, but it almost turned to their undoing as Tunisia broke on the counterattack which ended with Ghilane Chaalali (on for Ben Mohamed from the 82nd minute) shooting from distance high over the bar.
And right on the 100th-minute mark, the deadlock was finally broken. Sassi had committed a foul on Gassama wide on the right. Saivet swung the free-kick into the box, Hassen came for it but only pushed the ball onto Bronn’s head, leaving the defender without time to react at all as it bounced into the net.
There was nothing left for Tunisia to do but push forward as hard as they could, but Senegal survived again.
As the final 15 minutes started, Giresse’s men continued attacking, but what seemed like determination for most of the game was slowly turning to frustration. There was no clear plan or composure in their approach; and yet, they appeared to have managed to win another penalty in the 113th minute.
Salif Sane (on for Ndiaye from the 81st minute) tried to clear a cross, but his header hit Gueye on the arm and the referee pointed to the spot for the third time. VAR checked the decision and the referee eventually decided to see the situation himself again. Having seen it, he reversed his original decision and the game continued, prompting disbelief from the Tunisia players.
Towards the end, Khazri appeared to have lost control and he was fortunate not to receive his marching orders. He did, however, force Moussa Wague (on for Gassama from the 110th minute) to commit a foul and give Tunisia one last chance to whip in a cross, but Senegal defended well once more.
It wasn’t the best of football games quality-wise, not by a long shot, but it was certainly exciting and its outcome unpredictable until the very end of the extra-time. It looked likely to be decided by a single moment, and so it proved.
The 100th-minute mistake is likely to haunt Mouez Hassen for a long time, despite the Tunisia goalkeeper having a very good game overall. His team showed real desire, tactical discipline and commitment, and yet, they lacked just a bit of luck and composure in front of the goal.
As for Senegal, they won’t mind the way they got through, as long as they did it. Their team looked better equipped with talent than their opponents, but they would have still failed to win had it not been for that awkward moment from the Tunisia ‘keeper and his centre-back.
They now go on to play either Algeria or Nigeria for the title of 2019 African Cup of Nations winner.
SENEGAL: Gomis 8.5, Kouyate 7, Koulibaly 7, Sabaly 7, Gassama 7 (110′ Wague N/A), Saivet 7, Ndiaye 6.5 (81′ Sane 7), Gueye 6.5, Diatta 5.5 (68′ Sarr 7), Mane 7, Niang 6.5 (63′ Diagne 6.5).
TUNISIA: Hassen 7.5, Meriah 7, Bronn 7, Draeger 7.5, Haddadi 6.5, Skhiri 6.5, Ben Mohamed 6.5 (82′ Chaalali), Sassi 7 (106′ Badri N/A), Msakni 5.5 (46′ Sliti 7), Khenissi 7 (117′ Chaouat N/A), Khazri 7.
GOAL: Bronn (OG) 100′.
YELLOW CARDS: Khazri 64′, Koulibaly 74′, Sliti 76′.
REFEREE: Bamlak Tessema Weyesa (Ethiopia).
DATE & VENUE: July 14, 2019, 30 June Stadium, Cairo, Egypt.
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