The longer the game lasted, the less likely Senegal was to win. Egypt is a game-management maestro, king of the shootouts and Senegal, embroiled in their own neuroses about never winning the tournament, seemed never to regain their confidence after Sadio Mane missed an early penalty Happened. But somehow, in spite of Egypt being all spoiled and almost in spite of itself, it was Senegal who lifted the Cup of Nations.
It was a terrible final to end what has been a largely terrible tournament, ultimately won as Mane converted into a shootout when Edouard Mendy saved Mohena Lashin.
There are very few goals scored in a Cup of Nations final: only 10 of the last 10, four of which went to penalties after a 0–0 draw. And there are rarely goals in games involving Senegal or Egypt. Senegal had its talks up to this stage, scoring nine goals and conceding just two; Of those 11 goals, only one came in the first half. Egypt had scored four and two goals in six matches and only three of them came in the first half.
So it was a big surprise when Senegalese left-back Saliu Sis was shot down in the field after three minutes, and perhaps less surprising when Mane’s penalty was well saved by Abu Gable. Mohamed Salah spoke to Zamalek’s goalkeeper before his Liverpool teammate took it up; Mane reacted by pointing out where he was going to aim before smashing his kick central.
He recently returned to penalty duty after missing crucial kicks against Cameroon in the quarter-finals of 2017 and again against Kenya and Uganda in 2019. Although he did score against Zimbabwe in the group stage, perhaps the celebrity should not determine who takes the spot-kick.
Abu Ghabal is only the second-choice goalkeeper for Egypt behind Mohamed El Shenawi, but, if you can spare his playing skills (and that’s a big deal, considering his embarrassing play), he would have saved five penalties. Had a great tournament. including firing. He also made a brave second-half block at the feet of Idrisa Guay.
Senegal, as Cameroon did in the semi-finals, occasionally threatened to go behind an Egyptian full-back, but when they did, was often poor at crossing and decision-making. And like Cameroon, he soon found himself frustrated with Egypt’s deterioration, pretext of injury, protracted debate after every decision.
Egypt complained after the semi-finals that all three of their knockout games had gone into extra time, but the ball was actually playing so little in their game that it was perhaps a little different from an average team playing three games to finish. went. in normal time. This is anti-football in its truest sense: it is not that they defend, it is that they actively try to prevent any football from being played. Even as his coach Carlos Queiroz and his assistant, Roger de Sa were banned, the technical field continued to groan.
There was a second bounce at the beginning of the second half but that too soon came to an end. Senegal played their best football in the quarter-finals and the final half-hour of the semi-finals after Ismaila Sarr was introduced from the bench. Here, he was deemed fit enough to start and not only was he far less effective, but Senegal lost that power in the last quarter of normal time.
Senegal had the support of noisy and passionate fans – and that was just in the press box, dominated by journalists in their blue press Senegalese polo-shirts. But the stands were also dominated by Senegalese fans.
Cameroon has a large Senegalese community, and there were crowds around the Senegalese embassy in Yaonde earlier in the day looking for tickets. Meanwhile, three Egyptian planeloads, ensuring at least one atmosphere, had come in.
However, attendance was only around 35,000 – indicating one of the tournament’s major problems. The Africa Women’s Cup of Nations and the Africa Championship of Nations (for home-based players) showed just how much appetite there is for football in Cameroon, and the tournament was followed enthusiastically on television and radio – which certainly hasn’t always been the case. As is the case in the recent Cup of Nations.
But Covid protocol disappointed fans at the start of the tournament and when they were rested, tragedy struck Olembe 13 days before the final as eight people died of a crush. Concerns about duplication, and the prospect of heavy policing in response, prompted many to stay away for both the semi-finals and the final.