Late drama puts Burkina Faso, Cameroon into Africa Cup Of Nations semis

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Saturday January 28th, 2017

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) — Senegal and Sadio Mane blew it at the African Cup of Nations, with the title favorite's star player missing the decisive spot kick in a penalty shootout loss to Cameroon in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Mane saw his penalty, Senegal's fifth and final, saved by Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa. He turned and muttered something under his breath.

Vincent Aboubakar then stepped up to blast underdog Cameroon into the last four of the tournament, setting off crazy celebrations from the players. Goalkeeper Ondoa leaped over the advertising boards and sprinted to the Cameroon fans, pursued by teammates and even coach Hugo Broos.

Senegal, the team tipped to win this year after an ultra-impressive start, had itself to blame for its surprise elimination.

The team missed chance after chance in normal and extra time, with Mane, Moussa Sow, Keita Balde and Henri Saivet all guilty of failing to convert good chances — either by missing the target, or finding Ondoa in the way.

Cameroon's progression to the last four was a major surprise, even though the team was once a powerhouse of African soccer and the continent's first team to get to the World Cup quarterfinals.

Lately, Cameroon has been poor at major tournaments and this squad was missing some big-name players who made themselves unavailable. How they might be ruing that decision after the youngsters who filled in for them have a chance at getting back into an African Cup final.

Cameroon is a four-time African champion but its last title was in 2002, ironically when it beat Senegal in a penalty shootout.

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Earlier, Burkina Faso was first into the semifinals after two late goals beat Tunisia 2-0.

Aristide Bance, with his dyed blond hair, came off the bench to hit a low shot into the bottom corner from a free kick in the 81st minute and break a deadlock at Stade de l'Amitie. It was pretty much the big striker's first act of the game.

"I knew that Bance could get inside that defense and he has a great ability to shoot," Burkina Faso coach Paulo Duarte said. "Fortunately for us, the first shot was a success."

Prejuce Nakoulma sprinted away on a counterattack four minutes after that, avoided a desperate tackle from Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi way out near the middle of the field, and side-footed into an empty net to seal the game.

Burkina Faso, which lost in the final two tournaments ago, will play Egypt or Morocco in the semifinals. Cameroon will face Ghana or Congo.

Burkina Faso also hit the goal frame in each half to underline that it was the better team in the first knockout game in Gabon.

Tunisia hasn't made it past the quarterfinals in the seven African Cups since it was champion in 2004.

Bance's introduction in Libreville, greeted by wild cheers from the Burkina Faso fans, was a masterstroke from coach Duarte. Bance was a hero for Burkina Faso on its surprise run to the final in 2013 but was benched at this tournament.

He lined up for a free kick on the edge of the penalty area soon after coming on, was set up by a teammate, and drilled the shot past Mathlouthi. He whirled away and ran to the bench in celebration, and was mobbed by teammates.

In the quarterfinals on Sunday, it's Egypt vs. Morocco and Ghana vs. Congo.

The buildup to Ghana-Congo has been dominated by the fitness of Ghana captain and striker Asamoah Gyan, who traveled to the northern town of Oyem on his own after diverting to Libreville to have a medical scan on a leg injury. Ghana says the injury is not as serious as first thought, opening the way for Gyan to lead his country against a dangerous Congo team, with Ghana searching for a first title in 35 years.

Ghana's buildup to the quarter hasn't been too smooth away from Gyan's injury, either, with the team locked out of its first training session in Oyem after arriving late because of a delay with its luggage. Ghana's team eventually argued its way into the stadium.

In Port-Gentil, Morocco coach Herve Renard is looking to take a step closer to a third title with a third different team after winning in 2012 with Zambia and last time with Ivory Coast.

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