SADIO MANE made up for missing from the penalty spot in regular time to score the winning penalty as Senegal beat Egypt’s Mohamed Salah 4-2 on penalties to win their maiden Africa Cup of Nations title after Sunday’s final ended goalless in extra time.
Mane had seen Mohamed Abou Gabal save his penalty in the seventh minute at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, but Egypt could not capitalize as they went into extra time for the fourth straight time in this Cup of Nations.
Salah was due to take Egypt’s fifth penalty but when Mohamed Abdelmonem hit the post and Mohanad Lasheen saved his kick from Edouard Mendy, the Liverpool star missed his chance and was already on the verge of tears as his club mate Mane prepared for the decisive blow before.
After two previous final defeats, Senegal are finally winners of the Nations’ Cup, while Egypt missed out on a record-breaking eighth continental title, which would also have been a first for Salah.
Senegal’s celebration followed a disappointing final, the fifth of the tournament’s last 11 editions, decided on penalties after a goalless draw.
In fact, Egypt had already won two finals that were decided on penalties after finishing 0-0 and they had already won twice in the last two weeks in the same way, against Ivory Coast in the round of 16 and the hosts in the semifinals.
This time their luck ran out as the tournament ended at the site where a scrum on January 24 killed eight and injured 38.
The country’s 88-year-old President Paul Biya attended the closing ceremony, where he was paraded in an open-top car alongside his wife, First Lady Chantal Biya, in front of hysterical crowds.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino and CAF chief Patrice Motsepe were also in attendance, although the biggest cheers were reserved for Cameroon’s great Samuel Eto’o, now chairman of the country’s football association, as his face appeared on the big screens.
A four-time African Player of the Year and two-time AFCON winner, Eto’o is one of the continent’s greatest footballers of all time, but this final brought together Africa’s current superstar duo in Salah and Mane.
Desperate to make up for their 2019 final defeat by Algeria, Senegal had a golden chance to take an early lead when outstanding left-back Saliou Ciss was knocked down by Abdelmonem in the penalty area.
Mane kicked in, but his kick went too close to the center of the goal and Abou Gabal was able to save.
It took Salah almost half an hour to make a real impression with a jinking run from the right and a shot that Mendy easily parried, and the Chelsea keeper then made an excellent stop to overturn a try from Salah just before half-time .
Aliou Cisse’s Senegalese side boast a plethora of stars stationed at big European clubs, while Arsenal’s Salah and Mohamed Elneny are exceptions in an Egypt side still largely stationed at home.
Carlos Queiroz’s side are masters of the dark arts and the Portuguese coach himself was suspended here after losing his temper in the semi-finals and being sent off.
Her coaching staff pulled the strings on the touchline, placing Salah in a central role after the hour, and substitute centre-forward Marwan Hamdy missed a glorious chance shortly afterwards, going wide from close range.
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By this point it was clear that Egypt were ready to go into extra time again, sure they could count on more heroics from their goalkeeper.
Abou Gabal, nicknamed Gabaski, saved Boulaye Dia’s header in the 100th minute from a fine Ciss cross, and he also saved a stake from Bamba Dieng in the second half of extra time.
With Mendy saving from Hamdy at the other end, penalties were inevitable and it proved to be Senegal’s night as Bouna Sarr was the only player to miss his shot.
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