Sadio Mane hands Senegal AFCON crown

Senegal's forward Sadio Mane holds the trophy prior to the ceremony after winning after the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 final football match between Senegal and Egypt at Stade d'Olembe in Yaounde on February 6, 2022. 

Sadio Mane overcame Mohammed Salah in the battle of Liverpool’s superstars to help Senegal to their first African Cup of Nations victory.

A penalty shoot-out decided the outcome after a goalless 120 minutes in  Cameroon on a night of fluctuating and extreme emotion for the Anfield strikers.

For Mane – already a national hero – there was the ecstasy of converting the winning penalty to end his country’s excruciating wait to be African champions. His moment of glory came after he had earlier missed from the spot during normal time.

By contrast, Salah was left in tears after Egypt’s courageous efforts for an eighth title went unrewarded. Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy also secured legendary status, his critical save from Mohanad Lasheen in the shoot-out allowing Mane to step forward and shoot his way into folklore.

The rivalry between Liverpool’s duo dominated the build-up to the final, and came to the fore within six minutes.

Senegal were awarded a penalty following Mohamed Abdelmoneim’s reckless challenge on Saliou Ciss. There were two minutes between the decision and Mane’s attempt. During the stoppage, Salah briefed his goalkeeper Gabaski about where his Kop team-mate would place it (below). The intervention worked, Mane blasting direct at the keeper.

Egypt’s game plan would have been ripped up had Mane scored.

Led by former Manchester United assistant manager, Carlos Quieroz, the Egyptians navigated their way through the tournament on the foundation of rugged and brave defence. It was the same template in the final, with Salah carrying all the forward threat with his lone solo runs and occasional attempts at the spectacular. The closest Salah came in normal time was when testing Mendy in the first half, but in truth he was short of attacking help.

(From L) Senegal's forward Sadio Mane, Senegal's goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Senegal's forward Bamba Dieng celebrate after winning the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 final football match between Senegal and Egypt at Stade d'Olembe in Yaounde on February 6, 2022.

Senegal played a more adventurous style but lacked the imagination to work clear chances. When they did find openings, Gabaski excelled. It felt like the outstanding Egyptian keeper was relishing the possibility of spot kicks.

That’s no surprise given Egypt had been the penalty masters defeating Ivory Coast and Cameroon earlier in the tournament.

Their luck ran out when it mattered. First Abdelmoneim struck the post, and although Senegal’s Bouna Sarr shot was also saved, Mendy facilitated Mané’s shot at redemption.

This time the Liverpool man took no chances, striking low and fiercely to Abdelmoneom’s right to spark joyous scenes in the stadium and his home country. 

Over the course of the last month, Senegal were worthy victors – and there could be no more worthy matchwinner than then humble Mane, a superstar whose extraordinary deeds on the pitch have been matched by his philanthropy off it in helping and inspiring the people of Senegal.

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