Senegal claimed a narrow but deserved 1-0 win over Benin to become the first team to advance into the semifinals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Midfielder Idrissa Gueye scored the only goal of the match at the 30 June Stadium in Cairo on Wednesday, securing the Teranga Lions a place in the final four of the AFCON for the first time since 2006.
Chances were hard to come by in the first half, with the defences very much on top. Senegal generally enjoyed the greater share of possession, but they struggled to penetrate Benin’s resilient rearguard, led by the excellent Olivier Verdon.
Senegal star Sadio Mane had a sight of goal relatively early on, but he was denied from a tight angle by goalkeeper Saturnin Allagbe and had also been flagged offside anyway.
Just past the midway point of the first half, Benin had their first moment of threat in attack, with Mickael Pote sending a shot just wide of the mark following a free kick for the Squirrels.
The last notable incident before the interval was a scramble in the Benin box in which the Teranga Lions saw several attempts blocked by last-ditch tackles, leaving the teams locked at 0-0 after 45 minutes.
The second half was immediately more open and entertaining, with Pote and Mbaye Niang missing out on good chances at either end within the opening six minutes after the restart, before Kalidou Koulibaly’s header found the back of the net but was ruled out for offside.
The Teranga Lions made a double change a few minutes after the hour mark, with Krepin Diatta and Mbaye Diagne replacing Keita Balde and the injured Niang respectively.
Yet it was Senegal goalkeeper Alfred Gomis who nearly made headlines with an attempted pass from deep in his box which slid off his instep and rolled just wide of the posts, narrowly avoiding a howler of an own goal.
With the match seemingly ambling back into tedium, Senegal claimed the lead on 70 minutes: Mane’s great footwork teed up a chance for the hard-running Idrissa Gueye, who burst into the box and fired a shot past Allagbe for 1-0.
The Lions certainly didn’t rest on their laurels after going ahead, as within five minutes of their goal they saw Mane denied by a great save from Allagbe, had an effort ruled out for a narrow offside call, and came close in a penalty area scramble from which the Squirrels somehow escaped unscathed.
Benin were reduced to 10 men in the 83rd minute when Verdon pulled down Gueye just outside the penalty area as the last man, effectively ruling out any realistic chance of a comeback. Senegal saw out the remainder of the game in relative comfort to secure a semifinal berth against either Madagascar or Tunisia.