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Salah’s Egypt and Mane’s Senegal ready for Cup of Nations final


Yaoundé (AFP) – Record seven-time champions Egypt and a Senegal side who have never lifted the trophy clash in the Africa Cup of Nations final in Yaounde on Sunday as superstar club colleagues Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane go head to head.

The match starts at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) at the Olembe Stadium in Cameroon’s capital, scene of the tragic crush on January 24 which caused eight deaths and which has marred the tournament.

For all its problems, this Cup of Nations has produced a heavyweight showdown to decide who takes the title, with Salah and Egypt making it to the final by ending the dream of the host nation.

They defeated Cameroon on penalties in the semi-finals to stay on track for a first Cup of Nations title since winning their third in a row in 2010.

Having made his international debut a year after that, the 29-year-old Salah has never won the Cup of Nations but along with Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny is one of a handful of survivors from the Pharaohs team beaten in the 2017 final by Cameroon.

“I won the Champions League which was a great feeling, and I won the Premier League after 30 years with my club. I won in Switzerland, I won everywhere, and also I want to have that feeling of winning my first trophy with my country,” he said at a press conference on Saturday.

Senegal might lead the way for Africa in the FIFA rankings but there is pressure on them to at last win a first Cup of Nations crown, two and a half years after losing the final to Algeria in Cairo.

The Lions of Teranga — who will also play Egypt in a decisive World Cup qualifying play-off in March — lost the 2002 final on penalties to Cameroon, when their current coach Aliou Cisse was the team captain.

“All of that is in the past,” said Cisse, who was also in charge in 2019.

“We have a different squad that is even better than 2002 and better than 2019.

“We will try to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes as in these finals, and we are very excited to have the chance to put the past behind us.”

– ‘Two great players’ –

Mane has helped drag Senegal to a second consecutive final, scoring three times including once in the semi-finals when he also set up a goal in the 3-1 defeat of Burkina Faso.

However, Cisse has a squad full of stars based at leading clubs in Europe and he suggested too much emphasis was being placed on Mane and Salah.

“They are two great African players so of course there is going to be the comparison between them,” he said.

“We try to build a team around our best players and Sadio Mane is one of them.

“We need to find a way of getting the best out of him and also try to diminish Salah’s room for manoeuvre, although the most important thing is not necessarily that Sadio shines but rather that the whole team shines.”

– Queiroz suspended –

Carlos Queiroz’s Egypt must fight off the fatigue accumulated after going to extra time in all three knockout ties so far, and twice needing penalty shoot-outs.

That is why one member of their coaching staff cheekily suggested that the final should be delayed until Monday, although Salah insisted that adrenaline will get his team through the occasion.

“It’s a final. No-one will think about being tired,” he said.

“If we think about being tired we will remember the people in Egypt and think about making them happy.”

Egypt will be without veteran Portuguese coach Queiroz on the touchline as he is banned after being shown a red card in the semi-final. Right-back Omar Kamal is suspended too.

The final will be attended by Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, who turns 89 later this month.

Senegal’s President, Macky Sall, is also expected at the game along with FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Confederation of African Football boss Patrice Motsepe.

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