Liverpool stars Mane, Salah torn apart by AFCON title

Liverpool’s Senegalese striker Sadio Mane (R) celebrates scoring his team’s fourth goal with Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Crystal Palace at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on June 24, 2020. (Photo by PHIL NOBLE / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or ‘live’ services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /

The African Cup of Nations in Cameroon will come to an end on Sunday(today) as three-time finalists Senegal battle record seven-time winners Egypt for the continent’s most prestigious football title at the Olembe stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, SUNDAY PUNCH reports.

Senegal defeated Burkina Faso 3-1 in the semis to set up a pulsating final against Egypt, who avenged their 2017 final loss to hosts Cameroon, edging the Indomitable Lions 3-1 on penalties after a goalless full and extra time on Thursday.

For Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Saido Mane (Senegal) this final is the first of a double confrontation, as the duo will also be up against each other when both sides battle for a slot in the 2022 World Cup play-offs next month.

Both are interesting match-ups as one of the superstars will miss this year’s World Cup in Qatar, while either could miss out on both the AFCON title and the World Cup spot.

Both players have been instrumental to their side’s run to the final with Mane scoring three goals and providing two assists for the Teranga Lions, while Salah has scored twice for the goals shy Pharaohs, with one assist in six games at the tournament.

Like some African legends Sammy Kuffour, Nwankwo Kanu, El Hadji Diouf, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and George Weah, who never won the AFCON title, Salah and Mane has never lifted Africa’s biggest title.

But this will change for either of them in the dream final at the Olembe stadium today.

For both players, this will be their second AFCON final and possibly their last chance to finish on the winning side and whoever wins this title could also have an edge on who could become the next African Footballer of The Year.

Mane was part of the Teranga Lions squad that lost 1-0 to Algeria in the final of the 2019 AFCON in Cairo.

Salah missed out on the title at the 2017 edition in Gabon, where Egypt lost 2-1 to Cameroon in the final.

However, this will not be the first time the pair will be battling for awards.

Salah and Mane were in the running for the African Footballer of The Year award for three consecutive years, with the Egyptian winning it in 2017 and 2018 before the Senegalese forward claimed the title in 2019.

Also at club level, Salah has won more individual laurels than Mane and believes winning the AFCON — an eighth title for the Pharaohs — will be his career’s best achievement.

“Of course, I want to win something with the national team,” he said.

“Our target is to please the Egyptian people and we are in good shape. The players did their best during every game in the tournament, and I hope to march on. It’s my country, what I love the most.

“This trophy for me would be completely different, would be the closest to my heart.

“We were close before to win this African Cup (in 2017), we gave it everything but we were not lucky to win it.

“But it’s ok, now we are here in the new one. We have to fight for it, we have to give everything to win it and I’m sure the players have the same feeling.”

Mane is banking on the wealth of experience in the squad to end Senegal’s ‘nearly men’ tag at the competition.

Senegal were also finalists at the 2002 edition in Mali, losing on penalties to Cameroon at home.

“Experience is a good asset,” Mane said.

“I think that has always been the case since the start of this tournament. We suffered so much with a lot of COVID-19 cases and several injuries too.

“We had a very difficult time but with our experience, we kept calm until we recovered the whole group.

“We played a final last time, so we have experience and we will try to win this trophy.

“There are a lot of leaders in this team because we have a lot of great players and a lot of mature players.” For both players, they will dare to dream on Sunday that “everything is possible in one game.”