African Cup final things to know: Egypt less rest, Mo v Mané
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — You can’t get away from it. The African Cup of Nations final is dominated by the story of Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, who will find themselves on opposing teams in their continent’s biggest soccer game.
Both are chasing their first major trophy with their country and have a chance to add an international honor to their Premier League and Champions League titles at club level.
Here are some things to know about Sunday’s African Cup final between Salah’s Egypt and Mané’s Senegal, which will be played in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde:
SALAH vs. MANÉ
Both No. 10s are looking for No. 1.
There are so many parallels between Salah and Mané, not just the No. 10s they both wear when they play for their country.
Both have experienced bitter disappointment before in their quest for a first African title. Salah was expected to be the catalyst for Egypt in the African Cup final in 2017, only for the Pharaohs to give up a 1-0 lead and lose to Cameroon.
Likewise, Mané was meant to help finally deliver a first African Cup for Senegal in 2019. Algeria stole Mané’s moment in that final.
Much was expected of both Salah and Mané at this African Cup and both have lived up to the hype with key goals. The Liverpool forwards, who are also both 29, will finally be separated at the Olembe Stadium on Sunday night when one wins and celebrates and the other must deal with the pain of losing another final.
There would have been another intriguing matchup on the side of the field between Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz and Senegal coach Aliou Cissé, only for Queiroz to get a red card in the semifinal and a ban from the touchline for the final.
The former Real Madrid and Portugal coach was an abrasive presence throughout this African Cup, regularly shouting at referees and complaining about their decisions.
Cissé, in contrast, is a calming figure for Senegal. He’s also an inspiring one having captained Senegal to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, which put Senegal soccer on the map. Senegal’s players said they want to win this one for Cissé, who was also coach for the disappointment three years ago.
Cissé would be just the second Black coach in 30 years to win the African Cup.
Egypt thinks Senegal has an unfair advantage because it played its semifinal a day before Egypt and so has an extra day to recover and prepare.
Egypt also has had a tough journey through the knockout stages, where all three of its games went to extra time and two of them to penalty shootouts. Senegal won its games in normal time. That means Egypt has played 360 minutes of soccer in the lead-up to the final, twice as much as Senegal. Senegal would argue that they got the job done in normal time.
The African Cup in Cameroon was expected to be hard-hit by the coronavirus after the tournament went ahead in the midst of a global surge caused by the omicron variant. The virus has been disruptive for just about every team but it was overshadowed by the tragedy that unfolded at the Olembe Stadium two weeks ago, when eight fans died in a crush and stampede at the knockout game between Cameroon and Comoros.
The Olembe Stadium was nearly stripped of the final because of that incident and stadium security will be under close scrutiny on Sunday night.
BACK TO JUNE
This could be the last African Cup final to take place in February and that’s good news for Europe’s biggest clubs, who have constantly complained that the African soccer championship robs them of their African stars in the midst of their seasons.
Liverpool, for example, has been without Salah and Mané for more than a month of its Premier League campaign.
Organizers have committed to holding at least the next two editions of the African Cup — in Ivory Coast and then Guinea — in June-July, when the European leagues have their summer breaks.
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