Liverpool stars Salah and Mane battle for continental supremacy in Afcon final

Reds teammates carry the hopes of Egypt and Senegal in title showdown on Sunday

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Sunday’s final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon will likely be a showdown between Liverpool stars Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

That’s not to say that the rest of the Pharaohs and the Lions of Teranga will stand back and watch, but there can hardly be any doubt that the world’s attention will be on the pair of superstars battling to take home a piece of football glory.

Egypt will be looking to win the Afcon title for a record eighth time. Senegal have never won the continent’s marquee tournament and will be eager to put that right.

Adding to the drama, there has been much media speculation over the years about relations between Salah and Mane — with reports of an intense rivalry.

The Egyptian, however, has been the more prolific scorer for the Reds since he arrived at Liverpool from Roma more than four years ago.

A win for Egypt — particularly with Salah getting on the scoresheet — could go a long way to enshrine the Egyptian's standing as the superior striker.

And if that’s not enough to make Sunday’s final a thrilling affair, the two sides are scheduled to meet again in a World Cup home-and-away play-off next month that will decide which travels to Qatar for the World Cup finals later this year.

If history is anything to go by, then the Egyptians are favourites to win the Afcon title. The Pharaohs have won six of their 12 clashes, with Senegal victorious in four.

The Pharaohs have had a tough route to the final, and fatigue could be a significant factor in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde’s Olembe Stadium.

However, Egypt, who last won the cup 12 years ago, have shown grit and personality as they fought their way to the final.

Their dismal start to the 24-nation tournament left them qualifying second from their group behind Nigeria, but they have steadily improved since.

They played extra-time in all their three knockout stage matches, disposing in the process of such classy opponents in the Ivory Coast, Morocco and, in the semi-final, hosts Cameroon.

Those punishing 120-minute matches — two of which were settled with nerve-wrecking penalty shootouts — mean that, in terms of minutes, Egypt have played the equivalent of one more match than Senegal, who last played on Wednesday.

Injuries have also depleted the Pharaohs.

The list includes star goalkeeper Mohammed El Shennawy, veteran defender Ahmed Hegazy and right-back Akram Tawfiq. They will also miss defender Omar Kamal through suspension. Making matters worse, coach Carlos Queiroz will also be missing from the dugout, after he was sent off during Thursday’s clash against Cameroon.

Senegal’s route to the final has been much smoother, having reached the final with a 3-1 win against Burkina Faso — whose run to the last four surprised many. The Lions disposed of Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-finals by an identical scoreline, while their last-16 opponents, Cape Verde, were defeated 2-0.

Updated: February 06, 2022, 8:30 AM
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