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AFCON 2021 Final Preview: Egypt vs Senegal

Aditya Chaudhuri Aditya Chaudhuri

Seven-time champions Egypt will face Senegal in the final of the AFCON 2021 as the latter hope to secure their first-ever AFCON trophy.

Two of Africa’s finest, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, will face each other in the AFCON final when Egypt takes on Senegal. Although on paper—and going by the records—one would choose Egypt as favourites, the tournament has proven otherwise. Senegal, who have made it to their second successive final, are the team in form, while Egypt have needed three Extra Times to win all of their Knockout Stage games, which saw two games go to penalty shootouts. The Lions of Teranga, as Senegal are known, will fancy their chances going into Sunday’s final, and with Liverpool’s front man Sadio Mané in hot form, this is Senegal’s best chance to lift the Africa Cup of Nations.

 

Dominance from the Lions of Teranga

Senegal were unbeaten in their Group Stage matches. They started off a bit rusty, though, needing a penalty in the seventh minute of stoppage time to get the win against Zimbabwe in their opening match. After being held by Guinea and Malawi, they beat Cape Verde 2-0 and then romped over Equatorial Guinea 3-1. They continued their strong form into the semi-finals against Burkina Faso, taking a 3-1 win to seal a second consecutive place in the final. 

Senegal have been one of the underachievers of the Africa Cup of Nations, but under Aliou Cissé, who has been with the team since 2015, they have managed to get the job done. Cissé took them to the 2018 World Cup and has pushed them up to world ranking of 20 from 64. His gritty and hard-yards style of football might not be the most appealing, but it is getting the job done. 

Throughout the tournament, Senegal have dug deep to get their results. Out of the nine goals scored by them, eight have come after the hour mark. They have been putting in the hard yards and forcing their opponents to slip up, which is when they have struck.

Against Burkina Faso, the opening goal came in the 70th minute from Senegal’s PSG centre-back Abdou Diallo. Diallo’s teammate at PSG, Idrissa Gueye, doubled the lead a few minutes later, and although Burkina Faso pulled one back, it was Senegal’s talisman Sadio Mané who put the match to sleep with a deft finish on the break. They have also been miserly at the back, having conceded just four times in the tournament.

A rugged side who are going into their third AFCON final, Senegal know they won’t have any better chances to get the job done.

 

A tough campaign

The road to the AFCON 2021 final has been anything but smooth for Egypt. Tipped as one of the favourites with Mo Salah at the helm, Egypt haven’t lived up to the expectations despite making it to the finals.

The Pharaohs started off with a loss against Nigeria in the Group Stage before managing to get past Guinea-Bissau and Sudan with 1-0 victories. They were pushed all the way against Ivory Coast in the Round of 16 game, which they took 5-4 on penalties, and had to go to Extra Time once again in the quarter-final game as they pipped Morocco 2-1. Against Cameroon in the semi-final, Egypt will consider themselves lucky to have taken the game to penalties, given Cameroon were the better team in open play from the start. Cameroon enjoyed more possession throughout the game but just couldn’t finish it in the penalties.

For Egypt to challenge Senegal in the final, they will need to involve Salah in open play. Salah, by his standards, has had a quiet tournament, having scored just two goals, and given the Liverpool striker’s knack of scoring goals—especially this season—the numbers are not promising for him. 

Egypt’s ball-possession hasn’t been the best either, which is something Senegal will look to take advantage of. For Egypt, all eyes will be on their talisman; Salah needs to step up now more than ever.

Senegal’s biggest advantage, though, will be the fact that Egypt are coming off the back of three consecutive Extra Time games. Their players will definitely be tired, and if Senegal can push and grind hard just like they have done all tournament, this might well be their year.

 


The likes of Papa Bouba Diop, Salif Diao and El Hadji Diouf might have missed their opportunity to take home the AFCON Cup for Senegal, but for Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Abdou Diallo, this is an opportunity to write their names in the history books.

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Aditya Chaudhuri

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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