A Dylan Bronn own goal inside 10 minutes of added time saw Senegal book their first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final slot in 17 years after beating Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles 1-0 in a drama-filled match at the June 30 Stadium in Cairo on Sunday night.
A fully contested tie saw the two sides miss a penalty each late in the second half, eight minutes apart. Tunisia had the first after 72 minutes which Ferjani Sassi missed while Senegal had their own in the 80th minute, missed by Henri Saivet.
There was more drama in the final six minutes when initially, referee Bamlak Tessema gave Tunisia a penalty after an apparent handball, but after consulting the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), overturned the decision.
Senegal, who are yet to win any Cup of Nations title despite playing the most number of matches at the flagship African tourney can now dare dream as their tactician Aliou Cisse makes history playing in two finals as a player (2002) and now as a coach.
Senegal should have been up by at least two goals by half time. The Lions of Teranga had literally the lion’s share of possession and chances in the opening 45 with one of the three tournament top scorers Sadio Mane having the best of the evening.
In the 37th minute, the Liverpool forward dribbled past keeper Hassen Mouez off a Mbaye Niang pass, but his eventual effort went wide. Just a minute before that, Niang had a good chance when off Mane’s touch from a Youssouf Sabaly cross, his shot on the half turn skied .
Even before these two golden chances, Senegal had rattled the bar. In one of his many forays upfield from the left, Sabaly cut into some good shooting range but his rasping curling shot came thundering against the upright.
Tunisia didn’t create much, save for some two half chances after being forced to play on the back foot for most of the first half. Bronn had a header off a Wahbi Khazri freekick deflected and from the resultant corner, Youssef Msakni headed over.
Tunisia seemed to have picked lessons from their first half performance as they came back stronger in the second 45. Just two minutes after the restart Taha Khenissi missed one on one with the keeper chipping the ball over when he raced to a ball looped behind the defense.
They had an even better chance in the 65th minute when Sassi’s backheel found sub Naim Slitti, but man of the match Alfred Gomis threw his body across the striker one on one to collect the ball.
In the 72nd minute, Sassi's shot came off Kalidou Koulibaly's arms and the ref pointed to the spot. Sassi took responsibility and stepped forward from 12 yards but took a tame shot that was saved by Gomis.
Eight minutes on the other end it was Senegal’s turn when substitute Ismaila Sarr was brought down but Saivet’s effort was saved by a full stretched Mouez.
With no winner in regulation time, the match went to the full length and it was Senegal who would make the most of their luck after 100 minutes of football. Skipper Cheikou Kouyate’s freekick from the right bounced on Bronn’s head with keeper Mouez off his line.
Senegal managed the remaining minutes to keep their dream of a maiden title alive, even with some late nerves that were calmed by the VAR.
Total Man of the Match: Alfred Gomis (Senegal)
What they said:
Aliou Cisse - Senegal coach
I am proud to be living this moment, I played in the final in 2002 as a player and now I am here as a coach. I feel honored to achieve this history with this amazing team because we have not qualified for 17 years. This was a great match and I think it will be put in the history of football.
Alaine Giresse: Tunisia coach:
This was a tough game and would have gone either way. I want to congratulate Senegal and Cisse because of what they have achieved. For us we will fight another day. This is the beauty of football.