History awaits debutants Uganda and Tunisia and the chalice is playing for the championship at the first time of asking in the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Hippos are the surprise package of this year’s finals and head coach Morley Byekwaso says they also go into today’s clash at the Stade Olympique in the capital Nouakchott as underdogs.
However, Byekwaso insists they are not short of belief on the basis of their journey that also saw them defeat Mozambique and hosts Mauritania in between a slim 1-0 loss to Cameroon in the group stages.
“We came as underdogs and no one expected us to perform like this because this is our first tournament,” he said.
“For us, it was all about a dream to come here and play with some of the superpowers in African football. But we had our strategy and we knew how to play. We trust in ourselves and we have that belief that we can make it.”
The Hippos reached the semifinals with a 5-3 penalty shootout victory over Burkina Faso after a goalless draw over 120 minutes. Byekwaso attributes that win to a tweak in the shape of the team.
“We had to do something different and in the extra time, we had to change the formation and play 4-4-2 which helped us neutralise them,” he said.
The Hippos will need more of that ingenuity and luck against Tunisia, who also showed defensive discipline and resolve to knock out Morocco 4-1 on penalties after another barren draw.
The North Africans only secured their quarterfinal place as one of the two best third placed teams.
Coach Byekwaso is expected to name the same starting backline and may also keep Ivan Asaba and Steven Sserwadda in attack – the latter is joint top scorers, including Derrick Kakooza, with two goals each thus far.