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A football supporter's guide to CAN 2017: Day 18

Egypt's Ahmed Hassan RFI/Pierre René-Worms

Players were polite as the final matches approached, Mané was back with Liverpool and Egypt showed no fear ahead of facing Burkina Faso on Day 18 of CAN 2017.

1. Girding the loins Part I

There are only four matches left at the 2017 tournament. The two semi-finals, the third place play off and the big one. They are numbered match 29, 30, 31 and 32.
Egypt and Burkina Faso are match 29. That takes place in Libreville on day 19. And so both sides were undergoing their final preparations for the clash at the Stade de l’Amitié. There were the usual round of compliments for the opposing players and the coaches. All very gentlemanly. All very fair play.

2. Girding the loins Part II

I have chosen to follow the showdown between Ghana and Cameroon in Franceville. It means more interaction with a waiting room at a Gabonese airport. The one for domestic departures in Libreville is nothing like its counterpart in Oyem. There is no fresh paint. It oozes usage. But it is not dowdy, just rather functional. That’s its charm. It’s not trying to be anything more. The little stall tucked into a corner sells a vaguely decent espresso and a few cakes. It’s all entirely likeable. What was even better about the experience was the relatively prompt departure of the flight to Franceville.

3. Goodbye Africa, hello day job and silver linings

Sadio Mané, weeping, was helped off the pitch by the Senegal coach Aliou Cissé, following his failure to convert in Senegal’s penalty shootout defeat to Cameroon in the quarter-final. Mané has returned to his club Liverpool, who have been quite abject in his absence. While Cameroon prepared for their showdown with Ghana on day 20 in Franceville, Mané made a cameo appearance in his side’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea. At least his presence stopped the rot of four consecutive defeats at Anfield and in fact just having him around might have swung things Liverpool’s way. Chelsea striker Diego Costa fluffed a penalty in the dying minutes that could have given the visitors the victory. Clearly Mané had brought something with him from his travels.

4. Egypt have pedigree; Egypt have history; Egypt have Essam El Hadary

Between 2006 and 2010 Egypt monopolised the Cup of Nations trophy. They won an unprecedented hat trick of titles. But since that last triumph in Angola seven years ago, they haven’t qualified for the tournament. Bizarre really. Now the Pharoahs are back where they feel they belong and stopping them from reaching the final and possibly winning an eighth continental crown are Burkina Faso. But they’re not frightened about taking on the big dog, says defender Bakary Koné. “We’re looking forward to playing the match and to reaching the final,” he growled. All the indications suggest an Egypt victory. They have not conceded any goals and have the legendary El Hadary in goal. He’s won four titles dating back as far as 1998. Indeed, one of the Egypt squad, Ramadan Sobhy, wasn't even alive when El Hadary made his first appearance for the national team in 1996. And several were either in nappies or tripping around their nurseries when El Hadary was adding to his early collection of his caps. On day 19, he’ll lead his side out in Libreville for his 151st game for the senior squad. He’ll also extend his record as the oldest man at 44 years and 17 days to play in a Cup of Nations game. We shall hail him as El Daddy.

5. Hector, don’t ring that number

Egypt coach Hector Cuper has guided the team to the semi-finals on a diet of three 1-0s. They haven’t been breached in four games. If you want flash and flair, then Egypt are not really going to be your fare. But is Hector getting predictable? Burkina Faso, who Egypt play in Libreville, have scored six and let in two. And what’s more they seem to believe they’ve got Cuper’s modus operandi sussed.
"We’re playing a very strong opponent," said Burkina Faso coach Paulo Duarte. "They’re the most successful team in the history of the tournament," he cooed. "Egypt, I think, will let us have the ball. That’s been their philosophy so far as they look to hit teams on the counter.” So Burkina Faso feel forewarned. And they appear forearmed. “Egypt have been brilliant to get to this stage without letting in a goal," said Burkina Faso defender Steeve Yago. “But we’ve got some pretty decent strikers too. And you know Egypt could suddenly let in three.” So true, Steeve. But make sure they don’t score four.