It was always going to be this outcome, didn’t it? Egypt vs Senegal.
Mohamed Salah vs Sadio Mané. An Anfield house divided as two of the most recognizable faces in the European and African game clash in the AFCON 2021 final set to take place in Yaoundé’s Olembe Stadium tomorrow.
While many did not expect Egypt to reach the final despite the presence of Mohamed Salah, Senegal – the highest-ranked African nation in the latest FIFA rankings – was the front-runner before the tournament began with Mané as the chief architect in a star-studded group of players under former international Aliou Cissé.
And according to former Cameroon international icon Geremi, the debate of who the best African player is will be settled once and for all tomorrow night.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane told AFCON final will settle key debate#LFC https://t.co/9651uLEeVk
— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) February 5, 2022
When speaking with Genting Casino (cited in the Liverpool Echo), Geremi laid out the situation plainly: It’s a game the supporters will love to see. This is the opportunity to prove who is the king. When you look at the debate among African fans, some are for Mane and some are for Salah. People always remember this type of match, so it will be exciting to see. It will be decisive to show who is the best and who is the king of Africa. This trophy will count if they’re both in contention to win individual awards at the end of the year.”
How they got there; Senegal vs Egypt
Despite the expectations surrounding Les Lions de la Téranga, Senegal has yet to lift a single AFCON trophy in the nation’s footballing history while finishing runner-up on only two occasions. On the other hand, Egypt is the record winner in the competition, and should they pull off another upset, it would be the eighth time they will be crowned top-dogs in Africa.
For The Pharoah’s it has been one unexpected result after the next. Scoring just two goals during group play, Egypt finished behind Nigeria in Group D while barely seeing themselves past minnows Sudan and Guinea-Bissau. Their advancement through the knockout stages has gone similarly, too, as Mohamed Salah and company needed penalties to get through Ivory Coast after a 0-0 draw before defeating Morocco 2-1 after extra-time, only to go right back to penalties when they upset host-side Cameroon in front of their home crowd. Only scoring four goals in their six matches throughout the tournament, Egypt has defied the odds; what is one more match?
As for Senegal, the top-ranked African side is in the final as expected, but it has not been smooth sailing for Aliou Cissé and prized forward Sadio Mané. Senegal only managed one win in group play, a 1-0 stoppage-time win against Zimbabwe thanks to Mané, but a pair of 0-0 draws would follow suit though it would be enough to top the group.
They would come alive in the knockout stage, however, dropping Cape Verde 2-0 before back-to-back 3-1 wins against Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso. If the latter version of Senegal turns up tomorrow, then a first continental honor should be theirs but betting against Egypt almost seems ill-advised after their dogged determination has seen them through one tough opponent after the next.