* Gana Gueye scores late goal to end Benin dream
* Minnows Benin have defender Verdon sent off (adds details)
CAIRO, July 10 (Reuters) – Senegal’s Idrissa Gana Gueye scored 20 minutes from time to take them through as expected to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals but their 1-0 victory over minnows Benin, who finished with 10 men, was a largely laboured affair.
Gana Gueye’s goal was one of the few highlights at Cairo’s 30 June Stadium with the midfielder setting up the move and then finishing much to the relief to Africa’s top-ranked team as they struggled to break down their determined opponents.
Gana Gueye, who had possession just outside the centre circle, passed the ball directly forward to Sadio Mane and then sprinted upfield to virtually steal the ball off his team mate and tuck away a neat finish.
Senegal must wait until Thursday to find out whether they meet either Madagascar or Tunisia in Sunday’s semi-final.
Gana Gueye might have had a second goal some eight minutes from time with a similar surging run through the midfield but was pulled back on the edge of the Benin penalty area by defender Olivier Verdon, who was promptly sent off.
Senegal created the better chances in the contest but those expecting a dominant showing against a team 66 places below them in the FIFA world rankings were left disappointed.
A combination of spirited defending from Benin and unusually tepid attacking from Senegal kept the game goalless until the 70th minute breakthrough.
Mane had the ball in the net twice but was offside on both occasions, verified by the Video Assistant Referee being used in the tournament for the first time from the quarter-final stage.
He also had an effort cleared off the line three minutes after Gana Gueye’s goal.
There were several goalmouth scrambles that provided Benin with nervy moments but Senegal were unable to find the net, and timely tackles from Verdon and defensive partner Moise Adilehou kept the Senegal attack at bay and the underdogs in the contest.
Benin had a couple of chances, both falling to 34-year-old striker Mickael Pote, who was narrowly wide with a cheeky backheel in the 26th and should have scored straight after halftime but hit a tame effort straight at keeper Alfred Gomis.
But there was to be no repeat for the small west African country of their heroics in the previous round when they eliminated Morocco in a penalty shootout.
Senegal will feature in the semi-finals for a fourth time but on the first occasionsince 2006. Their best Cup of Nations achievement was finishing runners-up in 2002. (Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)