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Mane’s redemption

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Senegal lifted their first ever AFCON trophy on Sunday night after triumphing on penalties after a 0-0 scoreline after 120 minutes. Sadio Mane grabbed the winning penalty, breaking Egyptian hearts.

 

 

Senegal were rapid off the blocks, putting Egypt under pressure from the get go and they were rewarded almost immediately. Left-back Sailou Ciss got forward well and drew a fouled from Mohamed Abdelmonem and the referee pointed to the spot in the sixth minute.

Sadio Mane stepped up to take the penalty after a delay that included mind games from his teammate Mo Salah. His strong penalty was however not very well directed and Egypt’s semifinal hero Abou Gabal did brilliantly to get a strong hand to it and keep it out.

 

 

Senegal though were not deterred, and continued to dominate the midfield. The Pharaohs looked to counter via Salah but he often found himself outnumbered in the Senegalese half.  The threat though was far greater at the other end – Ismaila Sarr fired in a couple of dangerous balls across the six-yard box that no one could get on the end of.

Mane did the same from the other side but the Egypt defence stood strong at the last line. They stayed on top in terms of possession and position but struggled to break down and create clear-cut chances with the game becoming a bit cagey.

They were almost made to pay by Salah when he was played through by Mohamed Elneny but his shot towards the near post was well-saved by Eduard Mendy. Egypt finished the half stronger but the teams went into the break level.

 

 

The second half started on more even footing but Senegal still managed to carve the first big chance of the second period with Sarr again providing the threat. His low cross was interrupted crucially by Abdelmonem and the loose ball was quickly smothered by the goalkeeper with Mane lurking.

Egypt’s back four continued to frustrate and blunt the Senegal attack. They struggled to look dangerous on the counter which led to Carlos Quieroz throwing on Trezeguet and Zizo via his walkie talkie from the stands.

The substitutions nearly led to the opener with Zizo delivering a delightful cross from the left from a free-kick and found Abdelmonem free towards the near post but the defender was unable to keep his header down.

 

 

Egypt began to grow into the game and carved another golden opportunity with just over quarter of an hour left to play. Left-back Ahmed Fotouh got forward well and put in a delightful cross for Marwan Handy who did his best but could not get a strong enough contact with the ball and headed it wide.

They were lucky to keep 11 men on the field when Hamdi Fathi brought down Mane on the edge of the box. The midfielder was already on a yellow and the referee would have bene well within his rights to brandish another one for this foul.

Nerves started to become visible as the clock ticked on. Ciss emerged as Senegal’s most productive outlet as Salah did not track back the full-back. He put in a good cross for Dieng who blazed his ambitious volley over.

 

 

Neither side was able to get the breakthrough in the ninety minutes and the game progressed to extra time – Egypt’s fourth consecutive match that had no result in normal time.

The extra time started with excitement, Senegal nearly getting the goal they craved in the first minute. Dieng broke away down the left channel and fired a shot away but Gabal’s positioning and footwork was exceptional, allowing him to make a great save.

Gabaski was in action once more with an outstanding save from Dieng’s header after another Ciss cross. The Egypt goalkeeper was definitely man of the match on the night, irrespective of the outcome, and may well be a good shout for player of the tournament.

Egypt looked dangerous from set-pieces with Zizo’s deliveries testing Mendy and the Senegal defence every time. But it was Gabaski who remained the busier goalkeeper, this time keeping out Dieng’s swerving shot from distance with just over five minutes left to play.

 

 

The next minute it was Mendy who made the crucial interception. Egypt were patient in buildup and the move culminated in a shot from the edge of the box from Marwan Hamdy. The attempt was well struck but was straight at Mendy who palmed it over.

That was the last event of note as neither side got the breakthrough in 120 minutes of football and we moved to a penalty shootout. Egypt blinked first with Abdelmonem hitting the post on Egypt’s second shot. Gabaski responded, saving from Bruno Sarr on the next chance. Hamdy scored to level things up at 2-2 with three chances gone.

Dieng converted and Mendy saved from Lasheen to give Sadio Mane the chance to win the penalty on the fifth shot. History did not repeat itself as Mane converted his spot kick to give Senegal their first AFCON trophy at the end of a breathless night.

Here are our key takeaways from the match –

 

GAME OF GOALKEEPERS

Egypt had their goalkeeper Gabaski to thank for saving two penalties in the semi-final and getting them to the final and he was their star man again in the final. He opened the night with a penalty save from Sadio Mane and made multiple interventions in extra time that kept Egypt in the game.

 

 

But it was his counterpart Eduard Mendy that made the winning save, diving to his right to save from Mohanad Lasheen on Egypt’s fourth penalty. It was a final, & perhaps a tournament, defined by goalkeepers.

 

QUEIROZ-BALL

Even with the eyes of the world on them, Egypt decided to stick to their game plan, opting for pragmatism. They were set up to not concede first by their manager Carlos Queiroz, who was one of the harbingers of the defensive organisation revolution of the early 2000s.

 

 

Their über negative approach was risky but ultimately effective. They were able to blunt Senegal’s attack but they just did not offer enough attacking threat. Salah was often outnumbered and their only chances came from Zizo’s deliveries.

 

BIG THINGS AHEAD

This match was a great representative of African football, of tactical ingenuity, of hardworking, of dedication, and of execution. The teams gave it their all and the winner felt deserving.

A few months on, they will clash again in a decider for World Cup qualification and whoever wins will be worth looking out for in Qatar.

Ritwik Khanna
Economics student supporting FC Goa and Manchester United, in true masochistic way. Can be found reading Jonathan Wilson and Sid Lowe or planning a quirky trip in his free time.

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