Sadio Mané missed a penalty after six minutes of play. The Liverpool striker took responsibility in a breathtaking penalty shootout, converting his shot after Mendy had saved Lasheen’s attempt moments earlier.
Senegal proved to be more skilful in this exercise where technique and mentality play an essential role, becoming African champions for the first time in their history – after having failed in 2002 against Cameroon (0-0, 2-3 on points) and in 2019 against Algeria (0-1) -, depriving Egypt of an eighth continental title, at the end of a rather closed and not always exciting final.
However, one thing stood out even more for the Lions of Teranga, who put their name on the list of winners of Africa’s most prestigious competition … after a formidable scenario. Barely five minutes after the kick-off by South Africa’s Victor Gomez, the final could have changed completely. The referee awarded the Lions of Teranga a penalty so indisputable that Abdelmomen, the author of the foul on Ciss, dared not contest, even for form’s sake. Sadio Mané, the usual executor of the sentence (his penalty at the end of the extra time against Zimbabwe in the first round allowed his team to continue its stay in Cameroon) presented himself in front of Gabaski, nicknamed ‘the great dam of Cairo’. The Liverpool striker, who shot strongly, but a little too much in the centre, gave the Pharaohs’ goalkeeper – who had started the CAN as a substitute – the opportunity to shine once again.
Had he opened the scoring, the African runner-up could have let the Egyptians do what they like least, that is, having control of the game. Nevertheless, Sané’s failure to score left the two teams in the same position as they had been since the two finalists’ identities were known: an enterprising Senegal, and a wait-and-see Egypt, capable of stinging at any opportunity.
Ismaïla Sarr, in the space of four minutes (18th, 22nd), caused panic on the left side of the North African defence, but each time, Mané arrived a little too late to take the Watford winger’s offering.
Still, it is not by chance that the Pharaohs owe their longevity in this CAN to an iron defence, relying on a fulgurating Mohamed Salah, albeit discreetly, in the early hot and humid evening within a noisy, but not completely filled Olembe stadium.
On two occasions, Liverpool’s top scorer this season reminded us of the danger he represents: first with a shot that was not strong enough to make Mendy tremble (28th), and then with a classy move that would have been perfect if the Lions’ goalkeeper had not taken it out of his corner (42nd).
We knew the Egyptians were tired after three extra-time matches in the previous rounds against Côte d’Ivoire (0-0, 5-4 on penalties), Morocco (2-1) and Cameroon (0-0, 3-1 on penalties). This was confirmed during the first 45 minutes mainly dominated by the Senegalese. However, fatigue tends to fade when the team’s objective is to win a title.
The first opportunity of the second period was when the Senegalese got a shot, but Idrissa Gueye did not supported it well enough. It was instead captured by Gabaski (49th) and then Mané, even though he was hardly successful, as a few minutes later, it was in the keep of Zamalek (52nd).
Egypt, finally more enterprising, had another chance to break the deadlock, but Marwan’s header flirted with the left post of Mendy (74th) and did not spare the spectators an extra time full of speculation as time passed.
As in the early stages of this unprecedented Africa Cup of Nations final, Senegal went into extra time with a clear desire to take the lead, but Dieng twice tested Gabaski in a state of grace (91st, 101st). The two men met again a little later, and once again, the Egyptian took the advantage over the Senegalese by deflecting the powerful shot of the young Olympique de Marseille striker (115th).
The game could have turned in favour of the Pharaohs had it not been for a spectacular save by Mendy on a powerful shot by the lively Marwan (116th). Somewhere along the line, it was written that this final would be played in penalty kicks, leading to an outcome that tantalised footballs fans across the globe.
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