Who Wins Africa’s Cup of Nations?
All is now set for the final soccer match of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. Billed for 6 February at the Olembe stadium in Yaoundé, it promises to be a dramatic match-up between the Pharaohs of Egypt and Senegal’s Lions of Taranga. Senegal secured a place in the final of the competition with an overwhelming 3-1 win over the Stallions of Burkina Faso, while Egypt sailed through after a crunch game against Cameroun, the host nation. The match stretched into penalties kicks where the Pharaohs triumphed by 3-1 goals.
Cameroon’s captain, Vincent Aboubakar, had played a reckless mind game before the match. He rubbished the achievements of Egypt’s captain, Mohamed Salah. “He doesn’t impress me much,” he said. “He’s a good player, he scores a lot but he doesn’t produce a lot of stuff in the game.” But the Liverpool hit man would later go on to prove his mettle in a game that left home fans heart broken. But Egypt was only extracting its own pound of flesh, in a manner of speaking.
In 2017 in Gabon, Cameroon’s Aboubakar had scored a late winner against Egypt to secure the trophy for his country. Faced with another nerve-wracking encounter with Egypt, he found it impossible to reprise his earlier glory of five years ago.
Egypt goes into Sunday’s game to face a familiar foe in Senegal. Sadio Mane, captain of the Senegalese team, is a teammate of Mo Salah at the English soccer side, Liverpool FC. At club levels, both seamlessly fit into each other as though well cut fabric patterns. Both have been in terrific forms for club and country in recent years. It is this unique character of the game to come that has added to the excitement coursing through most African soccer fans.
How will Salah contain his club teammate? How will Mane handle the sleek nature of Mo Salah, a restless phenomenon who can cut through even the most fortified defense on his good days? There are no easy answers here since both players are difficult to police, especially during high octane games. The thrilling artistry of Mane and Salah has gotten soccer fans talking about the game to come with almost feverish feelings.
Senegal boasts of an impressive goalkeeper in Edouard Mendy, Chelsea’s foremost shot stopper in the English premier soccer league. His experience in the top flight of English soccer has served his country well all through this tournament. Senegal will be looking up to him to guide the goalpost without blemish in what promises to be a high-wire game. His most urgent concern now is how to stop Mo Salah who leads an impressive Egyptian attack brigade with a tactical culture that is difficult to disrupt.
Egypt is in search of its 8 Nations Cup trophy while Senegal is aiming for its first. Both are just hours away from finding out who will take home Africa’s greatest soccer glory. Africa simply can’t wait for a grand close to a tournament overshadowed by Corona virus issues, Ambazonian secessionist agitations in English-speaking Southern Cameroun, and the Olembe stadium stampede of 25 January which left 8 soccer fans dead and injured many more.
Photo Courtesy: Confederation of African Football.