- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) - Egypt has a history of success at the African Cup of Nations for its inspiration. Semifinal opponent Burkina Faso got a phone call from Jose Mourinho.

The first semi at the African championship in Gabon on Wednesday pits Egypt, with seven titles, against Burkina Faso, with none, and yet the story is not so simple.

Egypt failed to qualify for the three tournaments before this one, when Africa’s most successful team became irrelevant to the fate of the continent’s soccer crown. In that time, Burkina Faso rose as a new challenger, reached the final in 2013, and has now made it to the last four twice in the last three cups.

“I don’t believe in history, history is an illusion,” Burkina Faso coach Paulo Duarte said on Tuesday in response to Egypt’s impressive record. “I believe in the capacity of my team to win the match.”

Egypt does believe in history.

None more so than 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam el-Hadary, who won four titles with Egypt back in its glory days and is the only survivor of the team’s former success.

Memories of the triumph in 1998, and the three straight titles from 2006-10, all told with firsthand knowledge by el-Hadary, helps motivate this team, he said.

“This new generation, they are still young and they haven’t experienced winning an African title yet,” el-Hadary said. “However, this is my role, to always tell them stories about our success, our past success, and how we managed to do it.

“They want to prove themselves because everybody is comparing them to the past generation.”

In the first week of this tournament, El-Hadary set a record for the oldest player to play at the Cup of Nations. He’s been in Egypt’s team for 21 years, won his first African Cup in 1998 (beating Burkina Faso in the semifinals) and, as was pointed out Tuesday, has a daughter about the same age as some current teammates.

Are the players like children to him?

“I don’t treat them like that,” said Hadary, who smiled broadly when the question was asked. “I treat all of them like brothers, I treat them like a teammate … I don’t make them feel the gap in age.”

El-Hadary hasn’t shown the gap in age on the field, either, with Egypt the only team at the tournament to not concede a goal.

Breaking through a near-unbreakable defense. That’s the challenge for Duarte and Burkina Faso. Maybe Mourinho offered some help when the Manchester United coach called on Monday to wish Duarte, his fellow Portuguese, luck.

“He’s a great friend, a father for me,” Duarte said of Mourinho, “somebody who is always there to help me and bring me some advice.

“The Egypt team is a very strong team, very talented players, very strong players. It is the country with the most titles. It’s not east tomorrow for Burkina Faso, I know. I know, too, the game is not easy for Egypt.”

Egypt’s back and in a retro African Cup this year, the three most successful teams in tournament history have all made the semifinals. Following Egypt-Burkina Faso in Libreville on Wednesday, Cameroon and Ghana - with four titles each and the best records after Egypt - will play in Franceville on Thursday.

Cameroon is seeking to end a 15-year title drought and Ghana a much more painful 35-year stretch of near-misses.

Ghana got side-tracked by the antics of goalkeeper Razak Brimah, who was fined $2,500 on Tuesday for an expletive-laden tirade in a video he posted on his official Facebook page. The video was aimed at fans who had apparently criticized some of his performances. Razak said they and their families should “go to hell.” He apologized.

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

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