After slightly over a month of action in Cameroon, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) comes to an end on Sunday night in what is expected to be a thrilling finale between record champions Egypt and Senegal at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.
Senegal have an unwanted record of playing at the Africa Cup of Nations the most number of times without winning a title. But on Sunday, they will be out to exorcise those demons when they play their third final in their history and the second consecutive.
Head coach Aliou Cisse has been in all those three finals, in 2002 as the captain of the Lions Of Teranga where he missed a penalty as they were defeated on post-match spit kicks by Cameroon and in 2019, in Cairo Egypt, when they lost 1-0 to Algeria.
He is a man keen to make amends for the previous three heartbreaks by leading the Senegalese to their first ever AFCON title.
“We will approach this final with determination against a great Egyptian team. We know our opponent well; they have their own philosophy of play with experienced players on the continental level,” a determined Cisse said as he looked forward to the final.
He added; “We are on the way to our objective of winning the title this Sunday evening. We must focus on the final, play it well and thus succeed in our match. We will have to take advantage of the moment. We lost two finals in the past, but this time we will approach the match with more determination”.
The man to look out for in the Senegalese fold is Sadio Mane who has three goals and three assists in the tournament. Mane, is keen to win the title, not just for himself but his coach as well.
“I think he is the most criticized coach I have ever worked with. People say a lot of things about him but he is a great guy,” Mane said.
“We want to win it for him and our country,” added the Liverpool forward.
Senegal started the tournament slow with just one 1-0 win over Zimbabwe in the group stages, a goal scored from a penalty in added time, adding on two 0-0 draws. But they have slowly picked up the tempo and played better as the tournament progressed.
The return of Ismaila Sarr who scored in his first match in the quarters and assisted Mane’s goal in the semi-final has appeared to boost Senegal and against Egypt in the final, he is also expected to play a starring role whether as a starter or off the bench.
For Egypt, they will be aiming to extend their record number of titles. They have won seven African titles and will be going for number eight against Senegal.
Mo Salah is definitely the poster boy for the Pharaohs. The captain will be depended upon by the Egyptians to spur their hunt for the title. For the Liverpool forward, he has made it very clear that winning the AFCON title would be the biggest in his career.
For a player who has won the UEFA Champions League and English Premier League title, the declaration is a clear indicator for his passion for his country and determination to write history.
The Egyptians are playing their first final since 2017 when they lost it to Cameroon.
“After a lost final in 2017 against Cameroon, we will play our all-out tomorrow against Senegal to grab an eighth star. We are determined to seek the crown. the players are physically and mentally ready. We are here to play the title and that means a lot to us. We want to offer a title to all Egyptian citizens,” said Salah.
Egypt will be without their head coach Carlos Queiroz who has been handed a two-match suspension after being shown red in the semi-final win over hosts Cameroon. He is set to miss the final as well as the World Cup qualifier in March, which will be a second instalment of the fixture between these two sides.
The team is already without keeper Mohamed Elshenawy and defender Ahmed Hegazy who have both been out of the last three games with injury.
But, Mohamed Abou Gabal has shown he is a worthy replacement with his performances in the quarters and the semi where he starred on penalties. In Hegazy’s absence, Egypt will look towards the impressive Mohamed Abdelmonem for leadership at the back.