By Yonatanne Desta ‘24
On Sunday, February 6th, Egypt and Senegal faced off for the championship match in the AFCON Cup. Both teams have top talents, specifically Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Mohammed Salah (Egypt). They are both teammates on Liverpool F.C. and were trying to lead their team to the AFCON Cup. This would be Salah’s first AFCON Cup and would further his legacy to be considered one of the greatest African players of this generation. For Senegal, Sadio Mane entered the game playing phenomenally in the tournament, with 3 goals and an assist for his stats.
Senegal had yet to win an AFCON cup. In the last African Cup of Nations, they lost a disappointing final 1-0 to Algeria, on a deflected goal by Baghdad Bounedjah.
A penalty was issued in the first 4 minutes when Mahmoud Hamdy fouled Saliou Ciss. Mane took the penalty and before he did Mohammed Salah, his teammate from Liverpool F.C. gave Mohamed Abou Gabal the Egyptian goalkeeper advice on where Mane possibly might shoot. Abou Gabal was able to pinpoint where the Mane was going to shoot and blocked the shot with ease.
Throughout the first half Mane had many chances to redeem himself on inside crosses from the right-winger Ismaïla Sarr, but he wasn’t able to reach those passes because he was caught on his heels both times. Senegal was pressuring Egypt, but they seemed to be able to handle it with great defending by Ahmed Fattoh and Mahmoud Hamdy, who were blocking many crossing attempts from Mane and Sarr, which they did from playing physical.
In the second half, Egypt was focusing on trying to involve Salah with long goal kicks. Salah was able to break through with a shot on target for Egypt even though he was being guarded by one of the toughest and strongest defensive sides in the tournament. Salah with his trickery was getting through them and passing to his teammates to try to get a goal. Unfortunately, none of this worked, but Egypt looked much stronger in the second half than the first. Contrarily, Senegal was striving to end the game as soon as they could but was inaccurate in their shots on goal. The game went into extra time tied 0-0, and just as it started, substitute Bamba Dieng came striking toward the goal with a close shot that the goalie deflected.
Most of the players were exhausted, having been playing for 120 minutes. After both teams went scoreless in extra time, it came down to penalties. Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz had researched every Senegalese player on how and where they shot for their penalties. He then wrote out each player’s name and their shooting tendencies on the goalkeeper’s water bottle so as to provide the goalie with a reference for each player. This tactic helped him find both of the spots for Senegalese players Kalidou Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo. Egypt’s skilled penalty taker Ahmed Sayed easily made the first penalty. However, Mohamed Abdelmonem hit the post.
They were tied up 2-2 from Marwin Hamdi’s goal when Bamba Dieng used a fake of pretending he was going to the right from his body position but switched mid-way and smashed it into the top of the goal. Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy saved the penalty as his long frame helped him block the goal. It was all down to the captain Sadio Mane to redeem himself and win his country their first African Cup of Nations cup. With a long run-up, he slanted the ball into the left corner of the goal and all the Senegalese players stormed on the pitch, celebrating around Mane.