Onto the center stage comes the central character. 24 nations came in. 51 matches have been played. The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations has reached its climax. Senegal and Egypt go head to head for the ultimate prize at Olembe’s Paul Biya Stadium.
The Lions of Teranga will look to clinch their first-ever title. They suffered defeats in two previous finals. Egypt will be seeking to conquer the continent for a record-extending eighth time.
This game promises to be a nerve-racking showdown. It features two of Liverpool’s leading forwards in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah as they lock horns for continental glory.
Their Journey So Far
The Lions of Teranga are one of Africa’s biggest teams, but they are yet to lift the title. They have appeared in two finals. They fell to defeat at the hands of Algeria in the 2019 edition. The first defeat came in 2002 when they lost on penalties to Cameroon. Their current head coach, Aliou Cisse, missed the all-important kick that cost them the title.
They had a somewhat unconvincing qualification journey. Although they struggled to score goals, they went unbeaten in Group I. They had one win and two draws and finished top of the table. Senegal edged past a resilient Zimbabwe side in their opening game of AFCON 2021. They won 1-0, courtesy of Sadio Mane’s 97th-minute penalty. They had to settle for draws against Guinea and Malawi. Aliou Cisse’s men finished top of Group B and secured a place in the knockout stages. Senegal found their magic touch in the knockout rounds. They put two past Cape Verde in the round of 16, claimed a 3-1 victory over Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-final, and beat Burkina Faso 3-1 at the semis to earn their place in the final. They are on an unbeaten run owing to a mix of attacking brilliance and defensive sturdiness.
The pharaohs are the most decorated side in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations. They have conquered the continent seven times. Their last triumph came in 2010 when they saw off Ghana 1-0. They claimed two wins and a loss in the group stage. The loss came against Nigeria, courtesy of Kelechi Iheanacho’s 30th-minute strike. Egypt got its campaign up and running four days later. They edged a dogged Guinea-Bissau side 1-0, before wrapping things up with another 1-0 win over Sudan. The Pharaohs finished as runners-up in Group D. They claimed six points from nine available. The North Africans progressed to the last 16 where they saw off Ivory Coast on penalties following a goalless 120 minutes.
Egypt then turned in a performance of the highest quality in the quarter-finals. They locked horns with rivals Morocco. Salah’s 53rd-minute goal canceled out Sofiane Boufal’s seventh-minute penalty and forced extra time. Trezeguet came up clutch with a 100th-minute winner. The Pharaohs then stunned tournament hosts in Cameroon. They secured victory on penalties to secure a place in the final following a goalless 120 minutes at the Paul Biya Stadium. Egypt has struggled to get going in attack, but their defense has been the driving force in their journey to the final. They have kept four clean sheets and conceded twice at the tournament. Gabaski in goal has also been a huge presence.The six-time African champions will be seeking to conquer the continent again. They face an in-form side who have struggled in recent meetings between the teams. In this tie, the pharaohs have won their two meetings.
Senegal started on the front foot. They were a team hungry for the success that has eluded them in recent years. The Lions had a chance to go in front. They were awarded a penalty after Mohamed Abdelmonem fouled Saliou Ciss. Sadio Mane couldn’t convert. His effort was denied by a reflex save from Gabaski.
The first 45 minutes were cagey. Senegal wanted it more, but the Egyptians are big threats on the counter. Mo Salah was unsurprisingly the danger man for Egypt. The Liverpool forward fashioned two chances for himself. He was denied by Chelsea’s number one, Edouard Mendy.
The second half was end to end. Egypt’s solidity at the back meant Senegal found it hard to break them down. When they did threaten, Gabaski was on hand to repel.
Egypt had the better chances going forward. Ahmed Hamdy and Abdelmonem both got chances to score. Their headers didn’t do enough to trouble Edouard Mendy. Both teams found it difficult to break down the other. When they did, they couldn’t take their chances. It meant an extra 30 minutes would be needed to decide the tie.
Within seconds of the restart, Senegal had a glorious chance to go ahead. Bemba Dieng went on a mazy run through the Egyptian defense. His effort was thwarted by Gabaski who had been imperious for Egypt. Dieng would test Gabaski again. This time with a header. Gabaski again repelled with yet another stunning save. He proved inevitable. Zizo and Dieng had more efforts on goal. Mendy and Gabaski had other ideas. They pulled off stunning saves to ensure the match went on to the most dreaded of conclusions, penalty shootouts. Egypt boss Carlos Quieroz watched from the stands. He was suspended from the touchline during his side’s victory last time out. But it was his counterpart Aliou Cisse who was celebrating after the last kick. In a twist of fate, Sadio Mane scored the winning penalty.
Senegal were worthy winners. Cisse lost as a player in 2002 and as a manager three years ago. But for the first time in history, The Lions of Teranga are crowned champions of Africa! Finally!
Edouard Mendy was awarded the goalkeeper of the tournament award while Mane won beat player. In truth, both awards should have gone to Gabaski but winner’s bias. Vincent Aboubakar picked up his top scorer award for his eight goals.