Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane competing to be top goalscorer - this time in Africa Cup of Nations

Here are key talking points ahead of the continental tournament's last-16 round, which kick off on Friday

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Red rivalry resumed

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Or Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane? The duo have become so essential to their club, Liverpool, their names trip off the tongue almost in unison.

Which comes first? Salah, top scorer in the Premier League in 2017/18? Or Mane, so consistently effective as both spearhead and provider for the 2019 Uefa Champions League winners?

Over the past few weeks, the question of who comes first has become a matter of some intrigue. At the end of the Premier League season, Mane and Salah were locked in an ongoing, neck-and-neck race to finish as the league’s maximum scorer.

It ebbed and it flowed. When Liverpool beat Chelsea in mid-April, Sane caught up with Salah on 18. Two minutes later, Salah scored his 19th. At Huddersfield, they scored two each.

When Salah scored his 22nd goal of the Premier League season at Newcastle on the penultimate matchday, he moved two goals clear. And then, guess what? Mane scored twice against Wolves on the last afternoon, meaning that he, Salah, and a third African, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, shared the Premier League Golden Boot, with 22 each.

Now, at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Mane-Salah race has resumed. Salah registered goals in both Egypt’s wins against DR Congo and Uganda, to make him joint top scorer in the Afcon so far. A day afterwards, Sane was presented with a golden chance to start his catch-up, when Senegal had a penalty against Kenya. Mane fluffed it.

No matter. Within two second half minutes, he had scored twice, once from the penalty spot, to keep pace with his club colleague.

June 22, 2019: Charles Carolus Andriamahitsinoro of Madagascar during the African Cup of Nations match between Guinea and Madagascar at the Alexandria Stadium in Alexandia, Egypt. Ulrik Pedersen/CSM.(Credit Image: © Ulrik Pedersen/CSM via ZUMA Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
Madagascar's Carolus Andriamahitsinoro has become the standard-bearer for the surprise achievers of Afcon 2019. Ulrik Pedersen / AP Photo

Malagasy Magic

Who would dare rule out Carolus Andriamahitsinoro from finishing on the top scorers’ podium?

The Madagascan, among the clutch of players with two goals so far, has become the standard-bearer for the surprise achievers of the Afcon. Madagascar - 2-0 winners over Nigeria, unbeaten so far and, as winners of Group B, inheritors of a last-16 meeting with DR Congo.

“It’s been incredible,” says Carolus - he most goes by his shorter name - whose own football journey over the last decade is emblematic of the worldliness acquired by many of the Malagasy players who have propelled the island to this, its first Afcon.

Carolus, who now plays in Saudi Arabia, has been making history for a while.

He helped the Algerian club, USM Alger, to its first CAF Champions League final in 2015, where they came up against TP Mazembe, nursery to some of the Congolese who will on Sunday attempt to put a brake on the inspired islanders.

Nigeria, Cameroon, and the haunted penalty

No doubt about the heavyweight classic in the first round of knockouts. Three times Nigeria have met Cameroon in the Nations Cup finals. They are next-door neighbours, and shared between these Eagles and Indomitable Lions are many old grudges and controversies.

Not least the ‘ghost’ penalty of 2000. That year, with Nigeria co-hosting, Cameroon achieved their third success in an Afcon final against Nigeria - but only after Eagles striker Victor Ikpeba’s penalty in the decisive shoot-out had been ruled not to have crossed the Cameroon goal-line.

Replays showed the shot had in fact crashed down off the crossbar wholly behind the line. Alas, goal-line technology had not been invented back then.

Do not rule out Saturday’s clash going to spot-kicks, either. Cameroon have yet to concede a goal in Egypt, and neither they nor Nigeria have been exactly explosive in attack.