On February 6, Senegal won its first AFCON title by beating Egypt on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes.
Among the storylines going in was the duel between Liverpool teammates Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah. Many consider Salah the greatest African talent of the last five to 10 years. However, it his Anfield teammate takes the headlines.
Senegal’s first African Cup of Nations triumph over the Pharaohs of Egypt places Sadio Mané in the upper echelon of African soccer icons.
This triumph, along with his consistency for Liverpool and his prior clubs, shows Mané’s brilliance. Of all the great players to come from the continent, he is among the best.
As the saying goes, the best way to build a team is through the spine.
Edouard Mendy, FIFA’s Best Men’s Goalkeeper of 2021, was an essential piece of the starting lineup. The 29-year-old was a backup on the squad that made the AFCON Final in 2019 and lost to Algeria, 1-0. This time around, the Chelsea player was key. He saved a penalty against Mohanad Lasheen in the final. Mendy received the award for Africa Cup of Nations Best Goalkeeper at the tournament.
Center-back and captain Kalidou Koulibaly anchored the backline. Then, vice-captain Idrissa Gueye led the engine room in midfield with Cheikhou Kouyaté and Nampalys Mendy. Nampaly Mendy is one of three Senegalese players to switch their nationality from France. the other two are center-back Abdou Diallo and right-back Bouna Sarr.
Generally, the tip of that spine is the striker. However, the man carrying the hopes and dreams of Senegal occupied the left wing and wore the No. 10.
Focal point of Sadio Mané’s legacy
When Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo won their continental cups internationally, the relief and joy was palpable. Sadio Mané may not be as famous or decorated as those two. However, the same excitement exists with an international trophy, regardless of the country.
Mané realized that greatness in his comments after the final.
“I am very proud. I think it’s the best moment of my life. This day, I think is the best day. I won the Champions League and some other trophies, but I think this is the most special one for me. This is more important for me.”
The Liverpool No. 10 served as the main outlet in Senegal’s counterattacks. He was the fulcrum of their creativity, as seen with his 13 chances created. In fact, this was second in the tournament to only his Liverpool teammate Salah.
In the final, the Teranga Lions dominated possession and in the seventh minute, they drew a penalty. Cameras captures Salah giving advice to Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal. Unsurprisingly, Salah often practices spot kicks with Mané. Supposedly, the Senegalese approached them and claimed he would shoot in another direction.
Regardless, The shot was blocked by Abou Gabal, who actually won man of the match in the final despite the loss.
Ismaïla Sarr was the best attacking player for Senegal in the match. He created a couple of tap-in opportunities with his crosses, but the 2019 African Footballer of the Year was late with his reaction time for Sarr’s passes.
After a scoreless 120 minutes, Egypt seemed the favorite to win on penalties. After all, the Pharaohs won their quarterfinal and semifinal games on penalties against Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon, respectively.
But this time around, Senegal prevailed. Sadio Mané’s game-winning penalty redeemed his game performance and his legacy.
The Mountain Top
Success at the international level is a long-awaited goal for Sadio Mané.
“To win for my country, which has never won a Cup of Nations, would be magnificent. I am even ready to trade in my Champions League success to win the Africa Cup of Nations. The return to Dakar [with the trophy] would be extraordinary. That is my craziest dream.”
The dream is now a reality. During the celebrations in Dakar, president Macky Sall gifted the team with 50,000,000 CFA francs ($87,178), a 200-square meter plot of land in Dakar and a 500-square meter plot of land in the first district of the new city of Diamniadio.
The biggest prize may have been the boost to Sadio Mané’s legacy. Now that he has an AFCON title, the joint-2018/19 Premier League Golden Boot winner is now one of the 10 greatest African players of all-time. The Mount Rushmore remains untouched; Samuel Eto’o, Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and George Weah. Mané is now in the second group with Salah and Abedi Pele. For reference, Roger Milla, Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu close out the top 10.
The domestic season has seen Mané return to form as he currently has eight league goals in 20 appearances. Last year, he had 11 goals in 35 appearances. The former Premier League winner also reached the mark of 100 league goals. Additionally, he is the sixth player to reach the feat without scoring a penalty.
Mané will be remembered as one of kindest celebrities in history and as a legendary athlete who brought joy to his nation. And, still, more chapters remain in his incredible story.
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