THE African Cup of Nations has reached the quarter-final stage with Group A winners Burkina Faso facing Group B runners-up Tunisia on Saturday. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews the encounter.
Burkina Faso v Tunisia | Saturday 16:00 | Eurosport
Burkina Faso coach Paulo Duarte is keeping his squad guessing ahead of Saturday’s quarter-final African Cup of Nations tie against Tunisia. The Stallions boss has refused to reveal his starting side and believes the tactic could confuse their opponents.
His options have already been hit with key duo Jonathan Zongo and Jonathan Pitroïpa ruled out for the remainder of the tournament and those that are still in situ for the Burkinabe will need a vast improvement in performance levels in Libreville.
Burkina Faso topped Group A on goal difference but the Stallion’ only success came in the competition’s weakest pool came a little fortuitously against outsiders Guinea-Bissau whilst Duarte’s players were given a helping hand by tournaments hosts Gabon imploding.
I had high hopes for the Burkinabe – they reached the final in 2013 – and in two previous AFCON tournaments where the nation has progressed past the group-stage, they’ve always reached the final-four.
However, Pitroïpa’s injury reduces the attacking threat on offer and bar a strong display against Guinea-Bissau, poster boy Bertrand Traore hasn’t really impressed in the final third. The on-loan Ajax forward still appears to be getting over injury and still looks a notch below full sharpness.
There’s been an overreliance on Bertrand and Alain Traore in the final third and although the Stallions gave Cameroon a decent test in their opener, in their past two fixtures they’ve averaged just 0.42 expected goals per-game, being out-shot 31-16 by Gabon and Guinea-Bissau with the corner tally 17-2 in favour of their opposition.
Since the 2015 AFCON, Burkina Faso have notched two goals or more in only 5/13 (38%) competitive outings despite facing a number of lower standard nations. And the Group A winners haven’t scored at least three goals in a game for 29 fixtures, provoking enough doubt in my mind to suggest they’re probably not equipped to progress here.
Take Tunisia seriously
Tunisia were written off by the majority of pundits before a ball was kicked. Having been placed alongside Algeria and Senegal in the ‘Group of Death’, plenty expected the Carthage Eagles to be heading home early.
I wasn’t quite so down on the north Africans prospects and although Henryk Kasperczak’s charges went down 2-0 to Senegal in their opener, Tunisia did manage to trouble the Group B winners more so than any of their pool rivals, winning the shot count 19-8 with those efforts chances leading to 1.95 expected goals.
The Carthage Eagles then produced an excellent performance to dispatch Algeria and completed the job with an enjoyable victory over Zimbabwe. We came into the competition assuming Tunisia would play defence-first football but Kasperczak’s employed an attacking approach and mixed his systems up along the way.
Tunisia haven’t made it beyond the quarter-finals since they won the tournament in 2004 and if there’s one fault, it’s at the back. The newfound attacking verve has come at a cost and no last-eight nation has leaked more goals in the group-stage than the Carthage Eagles’ tally of five.
But with Youssef Msakni growing into the competition as the side’s main source of threat in forward areas, plus plus Mohammed Ben Amor and Naim Sliti providing the playmaking heartbeat at the base of the midfield plus Wahbi Khazri’s creative quality pulling the strings, Tunisia have enough punch to hurt Burkina Faso on Saturday.
Burkina Faso v Tunisia – Tunisia to win (59/50 Marathon)