Football Features

The Redemption of Sadio Mané takes centre-stage as Senegal beat Egypt on penalties to win their first Africa Cup of Nations

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:14, 6 February 2022

In a dramatic and incredible night of football, Senegal have won the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, beating Egypt 4-2 on penalties after a gruelling 0-0 draw.

Senegal were runners-up in 2019, but rebounded to be the best team in the 2021 tournament. However they came into the final facing the mentality monsters Egypt who have won seven of their eight finals.

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Senegal started brighter, winning a penalty six minutes into the game. Yet when Sadio Mané stepped up to take the shot, his spot-kick was saved by the massive Gabaski in the Egyptian goal. Mané looked crestfallen.

You sensed the hand of fate hovering over the Egyptian players, ready to pick Gabaski as the hero of the day and cast Mané as the villain. And this was especially the case as the game progressed and Senegal assaulted the Egyptian goal only for Gabaski to step up again and again.

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In particular, the 115th minute shot from Bamba Dieng that Gabaski somehow got down and palmed away, made it feel like there was just now way Egypt were letting this go. Gabaski was growing into the game, and no matter how well Sadio Mané played, the spectre of that penalty miss hung over the entire game.

Mané didn’t let his head drop, he wasn’t moping around the field. But that almost made it seem more inevitable that Senegal would lose. Mané was demanding the ball, driving at the Egyptians, playing great passes and being the talisman.

But no goal looked like coming. Ismaila Sarr flashed some beautiful crosses into the box but Mané was on his heels and thus unable to reach the ball. But it remained goalless, past the 90 minutes and extra-time. And so it went to penalties, where Egypt were all-conquering.

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Senegal hung with Egypt, they even took that Gabaski save that felt inevitable and kept on going. And when Mohanad Lasheen dribbled a surprisingly poor shot low into the arms of Edouard Mendy, suddenly all eyes were on Mané again.

Both of Liverpool’s star men had waited to take the kill-shot penalty for their nation, and now Mané had the chance to ensure Salah didn’t get a kick. He could end it right here and now, all he had to do is stand-up and deliver where he failed earlier in the match.

While in the seventh minute he was nervous and just went for a simple punt down the middle, here in the shoot-out, Mané held his nerve, pushed the earlier miss out of his mind and lasered his spot-kick low into the bottom right.

Gabaski had no chance as Mané wheeled away, arms aloft. He had done the impossible and redeemed himself: for the 2019 final defeat, for the earlier penalty miss, for all those years of Senegalese struggle in the Cup of Nations that he had nothing to do with but would have carried the burden on his shoulders. Now he can set it down because he has delivered Senegal’s first-ever Africa Cup of Nations.

The Redemption of Sadio Mané, all within one topsy turvy 120 minutes, is one of the most enthralling stories in modern football. A genuinely decent human being who eschews the trappings of wealth and excess that most footballers fall prey to, an honest-to-goodness nice guy who has finished first through a combination of confidence and coolness.

A happy ending!