AFCON Senegal/Burkina Faso: Sarr VS Koffi, the battle of the semi-final

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Alexis Billebault
Posted on Tuesday, 1 February 2022 18:31

Brazil's Alex Sandro, left, and Senegal's Ismaila Sarr in action during the Brazil Global Tour 2019 international friendly soccer match between Brazil and Senegal
Brazil's Alex Sandro, left, and Senegal's Ismaila Sarr in action during the Brazil Global Tour 2019 international friendly soccer match between Brazil and Senegal in Singapore, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Danial Hakim)

Brilliant and several times decisive since the beginning of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the Burkina Faso goalkeeper Hervé Koffi will have a lot of work to do Wednesday evening against the Senegalese striker. And in particular Ismaïla Sarr, who scored when coming on as a substitute against Equatorial Guinea.

This knockout match will be the first of its kind between the between the Lions of Teranga and the Stallions.

Both teams have already reached the AFCON final – 2002 and 2019 for the Senegalese, 2013 for the Burkinabe – both have failed to convert.

Aliou Cissé’s players are considered the objective favourites for this West African confrontation, and for the final too perhaps, and not just because they are the reigning African runners-up.

Sarr, 30 minutes on the pitch and 1 goal

Senegal has one of the best squads on the continent, and more particularly an attacking unit where Sadio Mané, Famara Diédhiou, Keita Baldé and Ismaïla Sarr all play together.

The latter (23) scored his team’s third goal in the quarter-final against Equatorial Guinea (3-1), his tenth in 41 appearances, having replaced Boulaye Dia twenty minutes earlier.

The Watford striker (England, Premier League) had not played since the beginning of the competition, because of a knee ligament injury picked up during a league match against Manchester United last November. Until the last moment, Watford had threatened not to release the player. The Senegalese Football Federation (FSF) threatened to take the matter to FIFA, and Sarr finally flew to Cameroon.

Cissé took it upon himself to reassure Watford by promising that he would take the necessary time before using his striker.

Cissé studies his opponent’s game closely and he sees that the Stallions put in a lot of intensity, which may not correspond to Sarr’s state of fitness.

The Lions coach kept his word, waiting until the match against Nzalang Nacional – as Equatorial Guinea are known – to give him game time.

Cissé may recall a goal Sarr scored against Herve Koffi on 5 September 2017 in Ouagadougou in the World Cup qualifiers.

“Sarr is a percussive player, who runs fast, but as he is coming back from injury, I don’t think he has 90 minutes in his legs. He may not be a starter”, says Burkina Faso international Alain Traore (65th caps). “Cissé studies his opponent’s game closely and he sees that the Stallions put in a lot of intensity, which may not correspond to Sarr’s state of fitness. But from the moment he is on the pitch, he will be a threat to Burkina Faso’s defence, especially if they shows signs of fatigue”.

Cisse fielded an attacking line-up of Mané, Diédhiou and Dia against Equatorial Guinea.

Koffi, ‘one of the best goalkeepers in the AFCON’ says Gouaméné

Alain Traore, not necessarily convinced by the quality of the Senegalese game, knows that danger can come from anywhere.

“There are some very talented players in this team, but it is true that Sané and Sarr are formidable. It is obvious that Koffi (25) will have work to do on Wednesday night, but what he has shown since the beginning of the AFCON is reassuring: Burkina Faso can count on a serene, calm goalkeeper who has confidence in himself, perhaps sometimes too much, which can make him lose concentration,” continued Traore.

The Stallions’ goalkeeper has been playing for Charleroi (Belgium) since the beginning of the season, after having played for ASEC Abidjan, Lille, Belenenses (Portugal) and Mouscron (Belgium).

Alain Gouaméné, African champion in 1992 with the Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire, has watched Koffi a lot and is following his career with interest. “He arrived very young in the national team, was a starter at the 2017 CAN, where his team finished third. For me, he is one of the best goalkeepers of this AFCON 2021” continues the former international goalkeeper.

Koffi has only conceded four goals since the start of the competition and has been decisive on several occasions, notably in the penalty shootout against Gabon in the round of 16 (1-1, 7-6 on penalties).

He was also a key figure in the penalty shootout against Gabon in the round of 16 (1-1, 7-6 on penalties) and Tunisia in the quarter-finals (1-0). “To have a good tournament, you need a good goalkeeper, and Burkina Faso is armed in this area. Koffi is methodical and sober in what he does. His footwork is excellent, he reads the game well and is generally safe:, says Gouaméné.

But the Stallions’ goalkeeper is obviously not infallible, and on top of from a few lapses in concentration, Koffi does not always give all the necessary aerial dominance. “He’s not huge (1.84m), whereas many goalkeepers are 1.90m tall. The aerial balls are his weak point,” concludes Gouaméné.

A detail that no doubt has not escaped Tony Sylva, Senegal’s goalkeeping coach…

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