By Alarico Rossi – @AlaricoRossi
The knock-out stage of the African Cup of Nations has arrived. For European clubs, the elimination of big teams such as Algeria and Ivory Coast is great news. The only negative so far is for Juventus, as a result of the injury to centre-mid Mario Lemina, one of Gabon’s main players. The group-stage has shown us what each team can do, and this article is going to preview today’s two fixtures; Burkina Faso v Tunisia & Senegal v Cameroon.
BURKINA FASO vs TUNISIA
With victory against Guinea Bissau in the last match of the group stage, Burkina Faso finished top of Group A . For me, the main strengths of this Burkina Faso team are their very strong team structure, although during the tournament so far they’ve been very fortunate with the number defensive errors from their opponents. Their second goal scored against Guinea Bissau from a counter-attack has been their only goal out of the 4 they’ve scored which hasn’t originated from a big mistake by the opposition. Burkina Faso managed a draw against Cameroon in a match where they only a had one real chance (from a set play), and then an own goal and Gabon’s big defensive mistakes are what has made the difference for Burkina Faso advancing to the knockout stages of the competition.
In the game against Gabon, Burkina Faso’s organisation showed both their strengths and their weaknesses. They play a 4-4-2 , with two offensive wingers and in some situations fullbacks overlapping on the sides. However, their two central midfielders are often poorly positioned for recovering the ball; they sit very deep behind the forward line, making it difficult to quickly transition into their defensive shape. The video below of the foul for Aubameyang’s penalty is the perfect example of this weakness:
And this weakness is a perfect situation for the offensive scheme of Tunisia. The expert Kasperczak is the only coach that plays with a midfield diamond. Two forwards and Sliti in the hole is the perfect shape for quick counter-attacks, which Tunisia have showed a lot so far in the competition:
Defensively, they sit back in a 4-3 defensive shape, reducing the space of the opposing team to play the ball in. When they recover of the ball, if they can get the ball forward quickly and with quality, Tunisia can really make the difference in this stage with counter-attacks, as shown by the clip below:
In terms of physicality, Burkina Faso come up on top and so exploiting this advantage is key to their success in the game. In Tunisia’s first match against Senegal, they probably deserved to score a goal but Senegal took advantage of Tunisia’s physical weakness to make things much harder for them. The first goal they conceded (Abdennour’s penalty foul) came after an overlap on Tunisia’s left side and was a result of the difference in pace between the centre-backs and Senegal’s forwards. This physical disadvantage was evident again in the second goal (from a corner kick), shown below:
SENEGAL vs CAMEROON
This clash between two of the biggest national teams in Africa is definitely one to look forward to. Both teams have only conceded 2 goals so far, however Senegal are leading the way offensively having scored six times, in contrast to Cameroon who have just scored three times. Cameroon has a good group of players but don’t have a real star in the team, and Cameroon’s group was not much more difficult than Senegal’s. Senegal have shown their quality since the first game, winning 2-0 in an impressive first half against Tunisia.
Senegal are one of main title contenders in the African Cup of Nations this year. Their 4-3-3 shape, with a lethal combination of power & the quality of Keita and Sow on the wings is something which all teams will struggle up against. They have a solid defensive line, which so far has only been unlocked by the attacking master class of Algeria. In the last group fixture, Senegal went down twice and twice recovered the score. Offensively they are very strong, often pinning the opposition defence back and especially dominating in wide areas, but the lack of pace in their defence means they often struggle in one-on-one situations. Koulibaly, one of the stars of this team, is the real example. At Napoli, Koulibaly is used to zonal marking, where his main focus is watching the ball and occupying the right spaces. This is not a common way of defending and therefore makes it difficult for Koulibaly when he has to transition into a defence based on man marking, and where opponents are often dragging the defenders out of position.
This could be a real problem because Cameroon are very good at winning second balls in the opponents half. Their defenders look to play long balls into their big target-man upfront, Aboubakar, and also look to play long balls out wide in behind the opposition defence, especially for Bassogog. The Cameroon style of play is very simple and a little boring: long balls forward and then look to get the midfield up for support to win the second balls. They make simple yet prolific plays, and in defence they have the insurance of having a quality goal goalkeeper in Ondoa.
So, we can imagine a match where Cameroon are looking to play long, with Senegal ready to recover, put the ball on the ground and counter attack in numbers, in the same way that give their victory in the first game against Tunisia. Defending counter-attacks has proven to be a big weakness of Cameroon which Senegal will definitely be looking to exploit. This is shown in the video below of the goal conceded by Cameroon against Guinea-Bissau:
Both games will be closely fought encounters; Tunisia definitely have the ability in their squad to reach the semi-finals, however Burkina Faso will put up a good fight. Burkina Faso have the toughest route to the final, with them up against 3 strong North African sides in their half of the draw. In my opinion, Senegal-Cameroon is the game to watch though; you will be able to breathe the flavour of African football, one that that all football fans enjoy.