Sadio Mané missed the small penalty and converted the big one. Mo Salah covered his face. He didn’t even want to look while his partner in Liverpool’s attack went to the lime point and executed the last one close to the post, the fifth of the shootout, the decisive one, the one that gave Senegal the first African Cup in its history after the series of pitches that closed an exhausting game. A sterile siege from Senegal and tenacious resistance from Egypt, invariably supported by the giant Gabasky, their goalkeeper, who was as impassable for Mané for 120 minutes as Koulibaly was intractable for Salah in the opposite area.
Edouard Mendy, Abdou Diallo, Bouna Sarr, Koulibaly, Ciss, Nampalys Mendy, Idrissa Gueye, Kouyaté (Pape Alassane Gueye, min. 65), Famara Diedhiou (Ahmadou Bamba Dieng, min. 76), Mane and Ismaila Sarr (Boulaye Dia, min 76)
Mohamed Abou Gabal, Emam Ashour, Mahmoud Hamdi, Ahmed Abou El Fotouh, Mohamed Abdelmonem, Mohamed Elneny, Hamdy Fathy, Amr El Soleya, Salah, Mostafa Mohamed (Marwan Hamdy, min. 58) and Omar Marmoush (Ahmed Sayed, min. 58 )
Yellow cards Mohamed Abdelmonem (min. 4), Nampalys Mendy (min. 16), Hamdy Fathy (min. 36), Koulibaly (min. 43), Abdou Diallo (min. 53) and Mane (min. 87)
The psychological duel between Salah and Mané lasted from the locker room tunnel to the playing field. The most rival colleagues in world football did not greet each other after the anthem ceremony and it did not take long for them to distance themselves once the match began, when the unexpected happened. It was surprising that the Egyptian megalith, the most successful and impenetrable team in Africa, conceded a penalty in the third minute, after a move that anticipated the kind of dominance that Senegal would impose. He opened Gueye to the side, very deep in the opponent’s territory without anyone bothering him, and Ciss took the ball with his chest before Monem brought him down spectacularly. Mané picked up the ball to throw and then began the ritual of destabilization. The shooter tried to undermine the confidence of Mohamed abu Gabal, alias Gabasky, the hero of the semi-final penalty shootout against Cameroon, and Salah came to the rescue. The striker tried to talk to his Liverpool teammate, but he did not return the word or the look. Mané ignored him while Salah met with the goalkeeper to briefly convey to him where he thought he would take the shot. The execution was brutal: Mané burst the ball slightly to the right, and Gabasky, as if he were persuaded, leaned in that direction and held on without defeat before deflecting with his fists.
Mané reacted as if the ruling was not going to weigh him down for the rest of his life. He turned around as if nothing had happened, and heading towards the stands he made a fuss asking for the support of the fans, as if this were the first occasion of an infinite succession. As if Senegal had all the time in the world that night to win its first African Cup.
Mané’s feeling was partly justified by the game of his team. Senegal is a much better team than Egypt. From the formidable Mendy, a prodigy of elasticity under the sticks, to the striker led by Mané, passing through a midfield in which Mendy and Gueye complemented each other naturally in all administrative tasks. Faced with this choral plot, Egypt was exposed several times to fit the first —Mané arrived half a second late at the far post on two occasions, and on another Gabasky took the ball from his feet, while Dia tried it with a cross shot and Dieng with a header and from a long distance before the impassable goalkeeper. The meta solved problems of all colors. If Egypt ever had the ball, their retort was unimaginative, predictably flat in Salah’s direction.
Alone in the meadow, the nine he did his best to hold the ball and turn around. But he rarely got close to Mendy’s bow. When he crossed the border he met Diallo and Koulibaly, two expert center backs who ran like clockwork. Egypt’s only memorable chance came as regulation time was running out, Hamdi almost headed in off a cross.
The shot went over the baseline and conditioned the resolution of the game to the random game of penalties that crowned Mané as king of Africa.
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