Liverpool duo Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will go head to head in the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
The biennial competition, hosted in Cameroon this year, was initially scheduled to take place last summer, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tournament favourites Senegal, captained by Mane, are back in the final for a second time in a row, but will be looking to go one step further than they did in 2019 when Riyad Mahrez’s Algeria were victorious in Egypt.
Senegal have reached the final twice, but never won the tournament. Head coach Aliou Cisse was in charge in 2019 and played in the 2002 final defeat to Cameroon, missing a penalty in the shoot-out.
Seven-time winners Egypt, meanwhile, are the most successful nation in AFCON history, last lifting the trophy in 2010. But this next generation of players will be hungry to taste glory themselves, after just missing out on in 2017, when they were beaten late on by Cameroon in the final.
Mane vs Salah: Form at AFCON
One of world football’s most exciting attacking duos will face off against each other in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final as Salah leads Egypt against a Senegal side spearheaded by Mane.
The Liverpool pair, a combined force at club level, will be taking on talismanic roles at opposite ends for their respective countries as Egypt seek to extend their record number of Cup of Nations triumphs to eight while Senegal look to win it for the first time.
They have an incredible record playing together for Liverpool but will be on opposite sides as Senegal take on Egypt in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde.
Given their status as two of the Premier League’s most feared forwards, it is little surprise that Mane and Salah are the headline acts in their national teams. Mane has had the most impressive tournament of the two, bagging three goals and an assist in his six games so far. He even climbed off his hospital bed after a head injury to lead Senegal to a second successive AFCON final.
Salah, who has been touted as the best player in the world this season, has been a little more muted, but has still bagged two goals and claimed an assist. The Egyptian has looked leggy as all three of his country’s knockout games went to extra-time. But the 29-year-old has a better international pedigree than his Liverpool team-mate, scoring 45 goals in 78 games, while Mane has bagged 26 in 80 caps.
Where is the final taking place?
The match is being played at Yaounde’s Olembe Stadium, where eight people were killed in a stadium crush last week and that tragedy has overshadowed the tournament in Cameroon.
Salah has made no secret of his burning desire to win a major trophy with Egypt, which has so far evaded him, while Mane beamed with joy and giggled with delight at the post-match press conference after his team won their semi-final on Wednesday.
Senegal, who are Africa’s top-ranked team, were among the favourites and overcame a languid start to reach the final for the third time.
They scored only one goal during the opening round but still finished top of their group and have looked efficient in overcoming their opponents in the knockout stage.
Senegal were without captain Kalidou Koulibaly and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy at the start of the tournament as they recovered from COVID-19 infections.
Egypt without head coach Queiroz
Egypt lost their opening group game to Nigeria and drew heavy criticism from home fans for their early performances.
But they have gained momentum, edging the Ivory Coast in a penalty shootout in the round of 16; Morocco 2-1 after extra time in the quarter-final and hosts Cameroon on penalties again in Thursday’s semi-final.
“We played amid very hard circumstances but we managed to overcome all difficulties,” said Mahmoud Trezeguet.
“We played 120 minutes for three straight games but we remained fully focused on getting the job done. We will play against Senegal with a big determination as we learned from the loss to Cameroon in 2017,” he added.
Egypt were runners-up in the 2017 final – where Salah and Trezeguet both featured – and won the last of their record seven titles in 2010.
They will play Sunday’s final without coach Carlos Queiroz on the bench after he was sent off for persistent touchline bickering in Thursday’s semi-final. His assistant Roger de Sa was already forced to sit in the stands after a four-match ban for fighting in the tunnel after the quarter-final victory over Morocco.
Sunday’s final will also provide the winners with a major boost before the countries meet again over two legs in March to decide a place at the World Cup finals in Qatar.
Mane: Experience will stand Senegal in good stead
Senegal’s experience of playing in the last Africa Cup of Nations final will be a “good asset” for them in Sunday’s title decider, said Mane.
Senegal, who beat Burkina Faso 3-1 on Wednesday to reach the final, have yet to win the continental title but came close in Cairo in 2019.
“Experience is a good asset,” said Mane, who scored Senegal’s third on Wednesday. “I think that has always been the case since the start of this tournament. We suffered so much with a lot of COVID cases and several injuries too.
“We had a very difficult time but with our experience we kept calm until we recovered the whole group. We played a final last time, so we have experience and we will try to win this trophy.”
Senegal were also runners-up in 2002, the year they went to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea and beat holders France in the opening game and became just the second African country to reach the quarter-finals.
The comparisons between that generation and the current side have increased as Senegal progressed through the tournament.
“There are a lot of leaders in this team because we have a lot of great players and a lot of mature players. Everyone is making a contribution so that the team can move forward,” added Mane.
Best performance: Winners 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010
Previous appearances in finals: (24) 1957, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1970, 1974, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2017, 2019
FIFA world ranking Dec 2021: 45
Expected line-up: Mohamed Abo Gabal; Emam Ashour, Mohamed Abdel Monem, Mahmoud Hamdi, Ahmed Fatouh; Mohamed Elneny, Amr El Sulaya, Hamdi Fathi; Omar Marmoush, Mohamed Salah, Mostafa Mohamed.
Best performance: Runners-up 2002, 2019
Previous appearances in finals: (15) 1965, 1968, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2019
FIFA world ranking Dec 2021: 20
Expected line-up: Edouard Mendy; Bouna Sarr, Abdou Diallo, Kalidou Koulibaly, Saliou Ciss; Idrissa Gana Gueye, Nampalys Mendy, Ismaila Sarr; Sadio Mane, Famara Diedhiou, Bamba Dieng.
Recent past meetings
- Nov 2014: Senegal beat Egypt 1-0 in Cairo in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers
- Sept 2014: Senegal beat Egypt 2-0 in Dakar in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers
- Feb 2006: Egypt beat Senegal 2-1 in Cairo in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final
- Oct 2003: Egypt beat Senegal 1-0 in Cairo in a friendly international
- Jan 2002: Senegal beat Egypt 1-0 in Bamako in the group phase of the Africa Cup of Nations finals
Route to the final
Senegal 1-0 Zimbabwe, Monday January 10
Nigeria 1-0 Egypt, Tuesday January 11
Senegal 0-0 Guinea, Friday January 14
Guinea-Bissau 0-1 Egypt, Saturday January 15
Malawi 0-0 Senegal, Tuesday January 18
Egypt 1-0 Sudan, Wednesday January 19
Senegal 2-0 Cape Verde, Tuesday January 25
Ivory Coast 0-0 Egypt (Egypt win 5-4 on penalties), Wednesday January 26
Senegal 3-1 Equatorial Guinea, Sunday January 30
Egypt 2-1 Morocco (AET), Sunday January 30
Burkina Faso 1-3 Senegal, Wednesday February 2
Cameroon 0-0 Egypt (Egypt win 3-1 on penalties), Thursday February 3
AFCON 2021 final
Senegal vs Egypt, Sunday February 6 – Live on Sky Sports Football at 7pm (Olembe Stadium, Yaounde).