Sadio Mané finally delivered a first African Cup for Senegal, and Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah could do nothing about it but stand and watch.
Mané drilled the decisive penalty in a shootout into the bottom left corner to beat Salah and Egypt in Sunday’s final in Cameroon and make up for missing a penalty early in the game.
Senegal won the shootout 4-2 after it ended 0-0 after extra time. Salah, who was supposed to be his team’s final penalty taker, didn’t get a say in the shootout after two of his teammates missed.
Senegal had lost two finals previously, including against Algeria at the last African Cup of Nations in Egypt in 2019, when Mané was left inconsolable.
This time Mané provided the winning moment. He raced off to joyously celebrate with teammates but also returned to spend some time consoling Salah, who was in tears.
“We are proud,” said Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who was also crucial to the cause by saving a penalty in the shootout. “We never won before. We worked really hard to win this trophy and today we won as a group, as a country.”
The final at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde was billed as a battle between Liverpool forwards Mané and Salah, who were both searching for their first major title with their country.
But it never reached the heights of a classic despite the presence of the two superstars.
That was even after the final started with drama when Senegal won a penalty inside the opening five minutes for Mohamed Abdelmonem’s foul on Saliou Ciss.
When it became clear that Mané was going to take it, Salah went over to goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal to give him some advice while covering his mouth with his hand. That appeared to irritate Mané, who interrupted their conversation and pointed with his hand toward the right corner of the goal.
In the end, Mané blasted the seventh-minute penalty straight down the middle and Abou Gabal blocked it.
Senegal continued in that vein to miss a series of other chances, with Abou Gabal starring as Egypt’s last line.
Salah had two shots on goal in the first half, the second a powerful drive that was heading for the top corner before Mendy got hands to it. But Salah drifted out of the game from the second half of normal time as fatigue clearly caught up with Egypt, which was also without coach Carlos Queiroz on the touchline.
Queiroz was given a red card in the semifinal and banned from the touchline, and he spent the final watching from the stadium seats, sometimes speaking into a phone.
All three of Egypt’s knockout games before the final also went to extra time, and two of them to penalties, and Egypt seemed to be playing for another shootout in a bid to win a record-extending eighth African title.
Egypt won those shootouts in the last 16 and the semifinals without missing, but failed with two penalties in Sunday’s shootout.
Defender Abdelmonem completed his miserable final with Egypt’s first miss, with his penalty cannoning off the post. Senegal’s Bouna Sarr had the next penalty saved by Abou Gabal.
But Mohanad Lasheen had Egypt’s fourth penalty saved by Mendy, leaving Mané to win it and Salah to drop his head and start wiping away tears with his shirt. Salah has now lost two African Cup finals after Egypt couldn’t hold onto a 1-0 lead and lost 2-1 to Cameroon in 2017.
Mané had said before the tournament that he would give up everything he’s won at club level to lift an African Cup with Senegal. He was so eager to get his hands on the trophy that he had to be shooed away from it when players were being given their medals.
Mané had to wait for Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly to walk up to the VIP area to be formally presented with the trophy in the presence of Cameroon President Paul Biya, African soccer confederation president Patrice Motsepe and FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Koulibaly walked slowly back to the field and his teammates with the trophy, savoring every second as Senegal finally rid itself of the label of being the best team to never win an African Cup.
The result was also special for Senegal coach Aliou Cissé, who was the team’s captain and missed the decisive penalty in a shootout when Senegal lost the 2002 final against Cameroon. Cissé was also coach for the 2019 disappointment.
His players grabbed hold of him at the end and threw him in the air.
“Champion of Africa,” Cissé said. “It’s been long. It’s been difficult. Sometimes complicated. But we never gave up.”