Both sides have had a taste of being in an AFCON final in recent years, but it was Senegal who looked to be more comfortable in their semi-final surroundings, enjoying plenty of freedom early on down the left through Saliou Ciss and Sadio Mané, but it was through reckless goalkeeping that Senegal were almost gifted the opener. An innocuous ball forward to Cheikhou Kouyaté saw an onrushing Hervé Koffi inexplicably attempt to punch the ball in his own 18-yard box, wiping out the midfielder in the process. The referee awarded a penalty until VAR overturned the decision after a lengthy deliberation. Both players involved in the incident left the pitch on stretchers with only Kouyaté returning.
VAR was in the thick of the action again in first half stoppage time. Referee Bamlak Tessema Weyesa awarded another penalty after adjudging Edmond Tapsoba to have blocked a shot with his arm. After another quick trip to the pitchside monitor, the official reversed his decision again.
Despite an 11-game unbeaten run, Aliou Cissé has struggled to get his team firing on all cylinders but, crucially, Senegal have ground out results throughout the tournament and on 69 minutes, this was perfectly summed up in Abdou Diallo’s opener. A corner beat the first man, before Kalidou Koulibaly’s overhead kick inadvertently fell to Diallo, who pirouetted on the penalty spot to fire in for only his second ever strike for his country.
The goal seemed to rejuvenate Senegal and their talisman Mané, who, on 76 minutes, chased a lost cause down the left before laying the ball across for Idrissa Gueye to tap in. Blati Touré’s unconventional finish late on really put a cat amongst the pigeons but Mané allayed any fears with a breakaway goal on 87 minutes to put the ‘Lions of Teranga’ on course to win their first trophy under Cissé in the final on Sunday.