Dave Farrar predicts Mo Salah's Egypt to squeeze through to the Final...
“Now Hector Cuper's team comes up against a rugged Burkina Faso and logic suggests that the North Africans will win: the weekend, though, makes me wonder if logic has any place in Gabon right now.”
Burkina Faso v Egypt
Live on British Eurosport 2
Well, it had been going so well: going into the weekend's quarter finals this column was in profit (not hugely, but certainly ahead) for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and we were also sitting on healthy bets on the outright market. And then Saturday and Sunday happened.
I can't remember being so wrong about so much so quickly: Senegal froze against Cameroon, Tunisia reverted to their pre-tournament selves against Burkina Faso, then DR Congo were unfortunate against Ghana, and Morocco similarly so against Egypt. So now we're left with four.
Egypt have given me a nagging worry all the way through the competition: I'd written them off beforehand on the basis of the quality of their squad, but their record at the AFCON is SO good that this was probably foolish. Now Hector Cuper's team comes up against a rugged Burkina Faso and logic suggests that the North Africans will win: the weekend, though, makes me wonder if logic has any place in Gabon right now.
Egypt are yet to concede here, and it's hard to see that habit being broken in this first semi-final. Burkina Faso have managed to score six times in their four matches, but they'll come up against a different challenge, and Egypt's centre-backs, Ahmed Hegazy and Ali Gabr, have been two of the players of the tournament.
It's now six consecutive internationals for Egypt without conceding, so how will Burkina Faso find a way through in Libreville? Aristide Bance and Prejus Nakoulma aren't going to strike fear into such a powerful backline, and while Nakoulma has scored twice here, he still looks an average player at best.
Egypt have struggled badly in front of goal, but have found a way to win three times so far (only Mali kept them out), and two of those three match winning goals have come in the last two minutes. I expect a similar kind of game here provided that Egypt can dictate the tempo and stop Burkina Faso from playing.
Cuper's team will close down space, concentrate on keeping a clean sheet, and trusting that one of their forward players can find a moment of inspiration, with Mo Salah the most likely. Egypt are going to be monumentally hard to stop, and while Ghana or Cameroon will give themselves more of a chance, this could be too much of a task for Burkina Faso.
The question that remains is how do we turn all of that into a bet? The 0-0 Half Time Score is trading at around [2.2], while Under 2.5 Goals are practically unbackable at [1.41]. Three of the last four Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals have featured Over 2.5 Goals, but this tournament resembles the 2012 version, when both semis finished 1-0.
A 1-0 Egypt win is the likeliest outcome here, and with Egypt trading at [2.34] to win in 90 minutes, I'm prepared to take the chance that Cuper's men will either score early and settle, or stay solid and strike late. It's a pattern that might take them all the way to their eighth title, which would be some achievement, and one that not many saw coming.
Back Egypt to win 1-0 @ [6.2]