Senegal Win AFCON 2021, Claim First Continental Title
Sadio Mane made up for missing from the spot in normal time to score the decisive penalty as Senegal overcame Mohamed Salah’s Egypt 4-2 in a shoot-out to win their first Africa Cup of Nations title after Sunday’s final finished goalless at the end of extra time.
Mane had seen Mohamed Abou Gabal save his seventh-minute penalty at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde but Egypt could not capitalise as they went all the way to extra time for the fourth consecutive game at this Cup of Nations.
Salah was due to step up to take Egypt’s fifth penalty but with Mohamed Abdelmonem hitting the post and Mohanad Lasheen having his kick saved by Edouard Mendy, the Liverpool star did not get his chance and was already on the verge of tears as his club team-mate Mane prepared to strike the decisive blow.
After two previous final defeats, Senegal are Cup of Nations winners at last, while Egypt missed out on a record-extending eighth continental crown that would also have been a first for Salah.
Senegal’s celebrations followed a disappointing final, the fifth in the last 11 editions of the tournament to be decided in a shoot-out after a goalless draw.
Indeed Egypt had already twice won finals that had been settled on penalties after finishing 0-0, and they had already won in the same manner twice in the last fortnight, against the Ivory Coast in the last 16 and the hosts in the semi-finals.
This time their luck ran out as the tournament ended at the venue where eight people died and 38 were injured in a crush on January 24.
The country’s 88-year-old President, Paul Biya, attended the closing ceremony where he was paraded in an open-top car to hysterical crowds along with his wife, First Lady Chantal Biya.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and CAF chief Patrice Motsepe were also in attendance although the biggest cheers were reserved for Cameroon great Samuel Eto’o, now the head of the country’s football federation, when his face appeared on the big screens.
A four-time African player of the year and two-time AFCON winner, Eto’o is one of the continent’s all-time great footballers, but this final brought together Africa’s current superstar duo in Salah and Mane.
Desperate to make up for losing the 2019 final to Algeria, Senegal had a golden early chance to take the lead when outstanding left-back Saliou Ciss was chopped down by Abdelmonem in the box.
Mane stepped up, but his kick was too close to the middle of the goal and Abou Gabal was able to save.
Salah needed nearly half an hour to make a genuine impact with a jinking run in from the right and a shot easily saved by Mendy, and the Chelsea goalkeeper then produced an excellent stop to tip a Salah effort over just before half-time.
Extra time again
Aliou Cisse’s Senegal team boast a plethora of stars based at major European clubs while Salah and Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny are exceptions in an Egyptian side still largely based at home.
Carlos Queiroz’s team are masters of the dark arts and the Portuguese coach himself was suspended here after losing his temper in the semi-final and being sent off.
Their coaching staff pulled the strings on the touchline, moving Salah into a central role after an hour, and substitute centre-forward Marwan Hamdy missed a glorious chance soon after as he headed wide from point-blank range.
By then it was clear that Egypt were willing to go to extra time again, sure that they could rely on more heroics from their goalkeeper.
Abou Gabal, nicknamed Gabaski, clawed away Boulaye Dia’s 100th-minute header after a fine cross by Ciss, and he also kept out a Bamba Dieng piledriver in the second period of extra time.
With Mendy saving from Hamdy at the other end, penalties were inevitable, and it proved to be Senegal’s night with Bouna Sarr their only player to miss his kick.