Sadio Mané, the decisive player in Senegal’s victory

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Alexis Billebault
Posted on Tuesday, 8 February 2022 10:20

Cameroon African Cup Soccer
Senegal's Sadio Mane, right, embraces teammate Idrissa Gana Gueye after winning the African Cup of Nations 2022 final soccer match against Egypt at Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

On Sunday night, Senegal became African champions for the first time in their history after they defeated Egypt (0-0, 4-2 on aggregate). Sadio Mané, who was voted best player of the AFCON, played a key role. The striker of the Lions of Teranga lived up to his potential in Cameroon.

It is often said that to go far in a major competition, and indeed win it, you need your best player to be at their best.

This was the case in 2019, when Ryad Mahrez, with his three goals, his assists and his influence helped reinstall Algeria at the top of African football, after a long eclipse of 29 years.

This year, the Algerian Fennecs did not shine, and Mahrez’s team left Cameroon on the evening of the first round. Instead, a 2019 finalist took the lead.

Sadio Mané (29) and Senegal became African champions. The Liverpool striker, voted best player of the tournament, played a key role in winning this first AFCON title in the history of the Lions of Teranga.

Decisive in the first match

Mané showed his commitment and determination to take his team as far as possible in their first match against Zimbabwe (1-0) on 10 January in Bafoussam.

“That day, he scored a penalty in extra time. He knew how to take responsibility, and without this victory, Senegal might not have qualified for the last 16,” says former international defender Omar Daf (54 caps between 1999 and 2012), assistant coach at the 2018 World Cup and now coach of FC Sochaux.

He had already played some very good matches with the national team, but I think this one is a cut above the others…

Mané started the Africa Cup of Nations by scoring this decisive penalty. He ended it by converting the penalty that allowed the Lions to defeat the Pharaohs, more than two hours after missing a penalty after six minutes.

“Sadio is not a big mouth, he is a rather reserved boy, who speaks little, but […] has a lot of character and temperament. The failure at the start of the match did not make him [mentally] leave the game, he continued to play his role as technical leader, showing himself to be diligent, combative and exemplary,” says the former Senegalese defender, a finalist at the CAN in 2002.

Although he did not score in the other two first round matches against Guinea (0-0) and Malawi (0-0), Mané’s influence proved decisive in the knockout matches. Scoring against Cape Verde (2-0) and providing the decisive assist against Equatorial Guinea (3-1), the player – who trained at Génération Foot – delivered a major performance in the semi-final during an engaging Senegal-Burkina Faso (3-1).

“He had already played some very good matches with the national team, but I think this one is a cut above the others. He scored […] and this game probably sums up best what he did during this CAN in Cameroon. Sadio never stopped setting an example with his commitment and that made his teammates want to follow him even more,” says Omar Daf. In Cameroon, the Lions’ striker was not content with doing what he does best – scoring and getting goals – as he was involved in the defensive work, a task that the forwards are not very fond of.

Daf: ‘The best player in the history of Senegalese football’

Since his first cap in May 2012 in a friendly against Morocco, Mané, who was then playing for FC Metz in France’s Ligue 2, has never ceased to proclaim his attachment to the national shirt.

With his 86 caps and 29 goals, the striker is now considered by many observers as the best player in the history of Senegalese football. “This is also my opinion, and not only because he won the CAN. We have had some great players in Senegal, but Mané is […] the best. He really pulled the group up, and if he had not succeeded in a tournament of this level, Senegal might not have won the CAN, even if there is a lot of quality in Aliou Cissé’s squad,” says Daf.

In less than two months’ time, the rematch between Egypt and Senegal (24 and 29 March), on the occasion of the qualifying playoff for the 2022 World Cup will offer Mané a new opportunity to show who is the boss…

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