Sadio Mane Fires Senegal To First AFCON Title

Vinay Patel

After much controversy about hosting the tournament mid-season, the Africa Cup of Nations got underway in January, with Cameroon as the hosts. Originally delayed due to COVID, AFCON 2021 ensured to unite the continent of Africa after a troubling 18 months. Some of the Premier League’s biggest stars such as Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah and Edouard Mendy were allowed to leave their clubs for international duty, giving certain clubs the task of dealing with key absences.

Senegal were deserving winners of the entire tournament after showing consistency throughout but credit must also go to Egypt.

However, there could only be one winner and it seemed very fitting that Senegal, spearheaded by Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, would come up against surprise finalists Egypt, led by teammate Mohammed Salah. After a relatively straightforward road to the final, Senegal were keen to do what they couldn’t in 2019, where they lost in the final to Algeria. On the other hand, the Pharoah’s road to the final was far from straightforward and after finishing second in their group stage, it would only prove tougher from there. Egypt took the likes of Ivory Coast and hosts Cameroon to penalties before showing their mettle in both shootouts to progress to the final. The game quickly burst into life as Senegal were awarded an early penalty but it was Mane’s poor effort that was easily saved by Egypt’s Gabaski. Chances missed by both side left the game on a knife’s edge and following a tense half hour of extra time, penalties would decide the AFCON champion. However, it was Sadio Mane who redeemed himself after a thumping effort on goal for the fifth and final penalty of the shootout that saw Senegal win 4-2 on penalties. Senegal were deserving winners of the entire tournament after showing consistency throughout but credit must also go to Egypt, who came into this final as massive underdogs.

There were also some massive shocks throughout the tournament, especially with holders Algeria crashing out in the group stages, alongside Ghana, who only proved to be the shadows of their former selves after a disappointing AFCON campaign. After encouraging group stages for both Ivory Coast and Nigeria, both sides failed to reach the quarter finals after losing to both Egypt and Tunisia respectively. Conversely, it was a tournament to remember for Burkina Faso, who reached the semi-final of the tournament for just the third time in nine years and as mentioned previously, Egypt defied their critics to reach the final after countless admirable defensive performances.

The closing ceremony of the competition saw individual awards distributed to players such Edouard Mendy, who won the best goalkeeper award after only conceding 2 goals across the whole tournament. Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar finished the tournament as top scorer with 8 goals, despite his country being knocked out in the semi-finals. However, it was Sadio Mane who was awarded player of the tournament, registering 3 goals and 2 assists, and it has been recently announced that the Liverpool forward will have a stadium named after him in his hometown.

Amidst all the excitement and football, a thought must be spared for the victims of the crush outside Stade Olembé in Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon, during the hosts’ round of 16 clash against Comoros. 8 people died and 38 were injured as a result of supporters trying to gain entry to the stadium. In what can only be described as a tragic accident, a football tournament is truly put into perspective and there should never be any circumstance in which fans go to watch a football game and never return home.

In a tournament that got off to a rocky start, AFCON 2021 has showed the world what this competition means to the people of its continent and expresses nothing but pride and admiration for the world class players it so regularly produces.

Vinay Patel

Featured image used courtesy of governmentza via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

In article image 1 courtesy of footballsenegal via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

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