After coming into their own in the knockouts, Senegal are tipped to win their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday as they take on Egypt, starring Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, the greatest African player of the contemporary game.
There will be a clash of two Liverpool players as Senegalese talisman, Sadio Mané faces Salah of Egypt. Senegal are hungry to fulfill their long-held promise and eventually win the Africa Cup of Nations – and Salah is hungry for the title with his national team after winning the Premier League and the Champions League with his team.
It is easy to see why the Teranga Lions went to this tournament as favorites. Mané offers incredible speed, amazing intelligence, and clinical finishing skills. Undoubtedly they have the best shot-stopper playing today in the form of Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly and PSG midfielder Idrissa Gueye – two of Senegal’s world-class stars – have a pitch between the goalposts and the front cover.
Senegal’s Africa Cup of Nations victory looks like a matter of time since it delighted football fans around the world with the 2002 World Cup, France humiliated the French champions – the legendary Bleus of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira – with a stunning victory.
The spirit of inevitability has faded in this year’s tournament as Senegal wins their group stage unfairly. Their opening match was a tough match against the Zimbabwe Minnows, which gave them the win due to a questionable penalty in the seventh minute of extra time. Perhaps the lowest point was a 0-0 draw against Malawi, in which the Mané boys played as incompetent players, passing passes and slowing down.
But as Bleus won the 2018 World Cup, Senegal erupted in a life of relegation. The Teranga Lions started roaring with a final quarterfinal victory, defeating Equatorial Guinea.
They lifted the gear in the semi-finals against strong, well-behaved Burkina Faso. The flood gates were open for about 20 minutes in the second period. Abdou Diallo scored a close goal after Koulibaly came to the corner with an amazing world-kicking bike. Six minutes later Mané’s impressive run gave Bamba Dieng a goal.
Burkina Faso beat Senegal when Blati Touré hit the net. But they showed the prowess that made them champions, and they also pretended to be championed as soon as Mané came up to face a sharp pass, he went facing the goalkeeper and locked it behind the net.
This shiny form will make the Teranga Lions tough rivals for the Pharaohs. But Egypt, too, has shown the required strength of the champion – albeit in a very precarious position. They have won three consecutive extra-season games, the first time overcoming a terrifying Ivory Coast team that had recently humiliated champions Algeria.
Egypt has been top scorers in the semi-finals against hosts Cameroon, with many saying they will win the match between strikers Vincent Aboubakar and Karl Toko-Ekambi. But they fought after Cameroon won the first half – forcing the game into extra time and then penalties. Egypt was cool, calm, and gathered at the kick point, as did Gabaski between the poles. They caught themselves when Cameroon failed to send athletes to pack.
Although their victory over Cameroon was an example of Egypt’s cool determination, the Pharaoh’s victory over Morocco showed another major reason why they could win the trophy: Mo Salah. Despite the presence of highly talented players – such as striker David Trezeguet and full-back Omar Kamal – Egypt does not have Senegal’s talent scattered in its list. But so far they have done a lot with Salah’s presence.
In the Moroccan game, it was all about Salah. He first scored an opportunistic goal that came close when the ball bounced off the six-yard line. Then the Liverpool icon created the winner with a shiny dot at the bottom right – the defenders’ nightmares – to combine Trezeguet to finish easily.
For his part, Salah is determined to return to his team with the Africa Cup of Nations winners’ medal. Before the tournament, he told reporters: “I can assure you it is the trophy I want to win the most. I am working to win it and it is a story that exists for all the Egyptian players who are here. ”
But Salah will have to fight his Liverpool team-mate Mané. As their team manager Jurgen Klopp said in a press conference: “Now obviously it is not so easy because one will be really happy and then the other will be very happy, but both have a good chance of achieving something really great.