Cameroon’s hopes of home success at the Africa Cup of Nations will undergo a first serious examination as they take on Egypt in the semi-final, seeking to become the first host nation to win the title in 16 years.
After overcoming the low-ranked Comoros Islands and Gambia in their two knockout round matches, Cameroon are now up against a decidedly tougher proposition in Thursday’s semi-final at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.
That match against Egypt is preceded on Wednesday by the first semi-final between Burkina Faso and Senegal at Yaounde’s Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium.
Cameroon are the tournament’s top scorers, but some of their performances have been low on conviction and oftentimes languid.
Egypt are their toughest opponent yet, having already made clear their championship-winning potential by getting past the Ivory Coast and Morocco in their last two matches.
Mohamed Salah and teammates overcame a slow start to remind of their long-standing tradition of success in the Cup of Nations. They have won a record seven previous titles, two more than Cameroon, who are the next best achievers.
Egypt were the last hosts to win a Cup of Nations in front of their own fans in 2006. Since then, there have been seven tournaments where the home team have failed.
The COVID-19 pandemic means there are restrictions on the crowds in Cameroon, and little of the delirious fervour that often accompanies the home team.
Much improved security has also been promised for Thursday’s match after last week’s deadly stadium crush in which eight people were killed.
Cameroon will still be hoping enthusiastic support helps them against Egypt, who have lost influential defender Ahmed Hegazi to an adductor tear and have injury concerns over their two first-choice goalkeepers.
“We have been here for more than 30 days and we are determined to continue our campaign and win the title,” striker Mahmoud Trezeguet said after scoring their winner over Morocco in Sunday’s quarter-final.
Senegal will be overwhelming favourites on Wednesday as they seek to reach a second successive final, having lost in the 2019 final to Algeria.
“With the quality we have, there is no point pretending we’re not thinking about the final,” said their star Sadio Mane.
“We are not going to hide our ambition, we know what we are capable of. Of course, we know it’s not going to be easy, there will be obstacles in front of us, but we’ve prepared for it,” he told reporters.
Burkina Faso have reached the semi-finals of three of the last five tournaments in a remarkable streak for a team ranked outside of the top10 in Africa.
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