- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) - Egypt and its 44-year-old goalkeeper still haven’t conceded a goal at this African Cup of Nations. The Pharaohs’ formidable defense and some other things to know ahead of the African Cup semifinals, which are Egypt vs. Burkina Faso on Wednesday and Ghana vs. Cameroon on Thursday:

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DEFENSE WINS GAMES

Egypt has gone six games - more than nine hours of soccer - without conceding a goal, and its formidable defense hasn’t been breached in four games at this African Cup. That could be the foundation for a record-extending eighth African title. You have to go back to October for the last time that goalkeeper Essam el-Hadary was beaten in an international. The evergreen el-Hadary has become central to Egypt’s return to the business end of the Cup of Nations after it failed to qualify at all for the last three tournaments. It didn’t start off with el-Hadary as the hero in Gabon, though. He was on the bench for Egypt’s first game, came on when first-choice ‘keeper Ahmed el-Shenawy got injured early on, and has been there since. Egypt has won three games and drawn one in Gabon, and let in zero goals. El-Hadary played his first international 21 years ago and has won four African Cups. He’s a leftover from Egypt’s one-time dominance of the African Cup and what a send-off for him another triumph would be. First up, though, is Burkina Faso in the semifinals.

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DUARTE’S SECOND CHANCE WITH BURKINA FASO

When coach Paulo Duarte was fired as coach of Burkina Faso in 2012, the situation was so bad that angry fans broke into the house he was renting in Ouagadougou and wrecked it, blaming him for the team’s failure at that year’s African Cup. His second term with the Burkinabes is working out much better. Re-hired in 2015, the Portuguese coach has taken the outsider to the last four. Burkina Faso did get to its first African final in 2013, the year after Duarte was fired, but Duarte has been forthright in Gabon over who should take the credit for that. He said the country’s best-ever performance four years ago was with the team that he “built.” Back in charge, he has a chance to be the one to take the team one step further.

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CAMEROON: GOOD, BAD & UGLY

You get it all with Cameroon. The team’s been good in Gabon, culminating in it knocking out title favorite Senegal in the quarterfinals, albeit in the lottery of a penalty shootout. But the team’s been pretty bad for years. Cameroon lost all its games at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and also failed to win a game at the last African Cup. That’s pretty dismal for a four-time African champion and the first team from the continent to get to the World Cup quarterfinals. And there’s always the chance of something ugly emerging in the Cameroon camp. The buildup to this tournament was dominated by a bunch of Cameroon’s top players making themselves unavailable for selection, turning their backs on their country and choosing to rather stay with their clubs in Europe.

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GHANA, FINALLY?

Former Chelsea coach Avram Grant has made it his mission to deliver a long-awaited title for Ghana before he leaves at the end of the tournament. No fewer than 31 coaches before him have tried and failed to end the African Cup misery for Ghana, which last won in 1982. Could this finally be Ghana’s year? Maybe, but they’ve been saying that for the last 35 years.

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Follow Gerald Imray on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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