Up to 21 stars could be involved in the African Cup of Nations semi-finals this week knowing one mistimed tackle would rule them out of the biggest match in the continent.
Burkina Faso have 10 players in their squad walking the disciplinary tightrope with one yellow card each, record seven-time champions Egypt have five and hosts Cameroon and Senegal three each.
Senegal are favoured to beat Burkina Faso in the first semi-final on Wednesday night in Yaounde while Cameroon confront Egypt in a hard-to-predict showdown 24 hours later.
All 21 have been cautioned in the knockout phase, and a second yellow card will trigger an automatic one-match suspension and exclusion from either the final or third-place play-off.
There are few more heart-breaking situations for any footballers than being forced to sit out a final because they accumulated two yellow cards.
In the Cup of Nations it happened to Ghana superstar Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew in 1992 when he missed the title decider in Dakar against the Ivory Coast, who won 13-12 on penalties after the longest final shootout in the competition.
Burkina Faso players in danger include six who began the quarter-final win over Tunisia — goalkeeper Herve Koffi, defenders Issa Kabore and Edmond Tapsoba and midfielders Adama Guira, Blati Toure and Cyrille Bayala.
The other Stallions who could face suspension are midfielders Boureima Bande and Saidou Simpore and forwards Mohamed Konate and Abdoul Fessal Tapsoba.
– Ill afford –
Egypt, already hit by injuries to goalkeepers Mohamed Elshenawy and Mohamed Abou Gabal and centre-back Ahmed Hegazy, can ill afford to lose any more players as they seek a first title since 2010.
The five Egyptians on the tightrope are defenders Mohamed Abdelmonem, Omar Kamal and Ayman Ashraf, who can also operate in midfield, and forwards Mostafa Mohamed and Ahmed ‘Zizo’ Sayed.
Only ‘Zizo’ is unlikely to start against the Indomitable Lions in a repeat of the 2017 final in Libreville won by five-time champions Cameroon.
All the Senegal players with one yellow card — defender Saliou Ciss and midfielders Nampalys Mendy and Pape Gueye — started the last-eight triumph over Equatorial Guinea.
Defender Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui and midfielders Martin Hongla and Andre Franck Zambo Anguissa are the Cameroonians who have been cautioned in the past two rounds, and are probable starters against Egypt.
The most card-littered match of the 48 so far in the flagship African tournament was the last-16 battle between Burkina Faso and Gabon.
Gabonese Sidney Obissa was sent off and eight of the team yellow-carded, along with six Burkinabe, who won on penalties.
The final and third-place play-off are scheduled for Sunday.
Africa Cup of Nations disciplinary records
2: Cape Verde, Ghana
1: Burkina Faso, Comoros, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tunisia
13: Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea
9: Guinea, Malawi
8: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe
7: Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone
6: Comoros, Mali, Morocco
4: Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan
3: Mauritania, Nigeria
Note: Red card = two-match suspension, two yellow cards = one-match suspension