The Liverpool trio of Naby Keita, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah departed for Cameroon last month to represent their respective countries at the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON). The tournament which was postponed last year because of the pandemic kicked off on 9th January.

Naby Keita’s Guinea got knocked out in the Round of 16 whilst Mohamed Salah’s Egypt are set to face off against Sadio Mané’s Senegal in the grand finale. We take a look back at how all three Liverpool players fared and then look forward to the final on Sunday night.

Naby Keita

Naby captained Guinea at the tournament, with the Syli Nationale finding themselves in group B alongside Senegal, Malawi and Zimbabwe. They faced off against Malawi in their opening group game, with left back Sylla netting the only goal of the game.

Naby Keita enjoyed a strong showing and was promptly named MOTM. The second group match saw Guinea square off against Senegal, with Naby coming face to face with his teammate and close friend Sadio Mané.

Again, Keita was the standout, in what was a drab goalless draw. He sprinkled moments of quality on a dull match with some eye catching footwork and dribbles. He showed his tenacity as well, with a foul on Mané seeing him pick up a booking. He was named MOTM for the second game running.

Four points was enough to secure progression to the Round of 16, with the final group game against Zimbabwe a chance to win the group ahead of Senegal. Guinea failed to do so however, falling to a 2-1 defeat to bottom of the group Zimbabwe.

Having fallen to a 2-0 halftime deficit, Keita sparked belief of a comeback with a brilliant strike in the 49th minute. Cutting in from the right, he unleashed a wicked left footed effort that flew past the goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Naby, he picked up another booking for dissent in the 90th minute.

Naby Keita presented with his Man of the Match award

That saw him suspended for the Round of 16 clash against tournament debutants Gambia. His absence was keenly felt as Guinea succumbed to a 1-0 defeat without their talisman. It marked a disappointing end to a promising tournament for Naby Keita.

Sadio Mané

The 29 year old arrived in Cameroon carrying the hopes of a star studded Senegal side. The pre-tournament favourites suffered a turbulent start to the tournament with key players testing positive for Covid. Mané captained the side in the absence of Koulibaly.

This meant more pressure on Sadio’s shoulders in the group opener against Zimbabwe. Senegal toiled and looked set to be held to a goalless draw before a last gasp penalty after a shot was handled in the box. Sadio stepped up and converted with virtually the last kick of the game to win his side the points.

Sadio Mané won the most duels (9), created the most chances (5), completed the most dribbles (4) and won the most fouls (4) in Senegal’s win over Zimbabwe.

Sadio made history on the night with his penalty seeing him climb above Henri Camara as the top scoring Senegalese player at AFCON tournaments with six goals. The second game of the group saw him come up against Naby Keita’s Guinea, with Keita enjoying the best of that encounter.

The final group game saw the likes of Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly return from Covid in a drab goalless draw against Malawi. A point was enough for Senegal to top the group. A somewhat stuttering group stages for the Teranga Lions but they would roar in the knockouts.

Cape Verde were the opponents in the Round of 16 in a match riddled with controversy. A nasty head collision between Mané and Mozinha saw the goalkeeper harshly sent off and Mané allowed to continue despite looking dazed by the blow.

Sadio Mané and Vozinha pose in the hospital after the game

To his credit, he opened the scoring with a peach of a curler before going off as Senegal clinched a 2-0 victory. It was another MOTM performance from the winger to guide his nation into the quarters.

Mané was cleared for action and started against Equitorial Guinea in the quarter final. He opened the game up with an incisive through ball to Diedhiou who opened the scoring on the way to a an entertaining 3-1 victory.

Sadio Mané completed the most dribbles (4), created the most chances (3) and won the most duels (9) in Senegal’s win over Equitorial Guinea.

The semi final brought a stern test in the form of Burkina Faso but once again Sadio rose to the occasion to guide his country through with an excellent performance. He provided the assist for Dieng to make it 2-0 before sealing the game with a classy chip late on after Toure had pulled a goal back.

Sadio Mané won the most duels (10), completed the most dribbles (5), created the most chances (5), and recorded the most shots on target (3) in Senegal’s semi final win over Burkina Faso.

It was a truly breathtaking performance, with his strike seeing him equal Henri Camara as the joint all time topscorer for Senegal. He’s been the beating heart of this Senegalese side, exhibiting explosive pace and power as well as quality in the defining moments.

Sadio Mané for Senegal at #AFCON2021:

• Most duels won (47)
• Most successful dribbles (19)
• Most chances created (14)
• Most shots on target (7)
• Most possession won in the final ⅓ (7)
• Most goals (3)
• Joint most big chances created (3)
• Most MOTM awards (3)
• Most assists (2)

Sadio Mané has arguably been the best player at the tournament

Mohamed Salah

The eyes of the continent were on Mo, with him heading into the tournament as the most in form player on the planet. It was a false start for the Pharoahs as they lost their opening game in group D to Nigeria, going down 1-0. Salah was used in a central striking role by Carlos Quieroz and he struggled throughout.

Mohamed Salah registered the fewest touches (35) of any player to play 90 minutes tonight, attempting just the one shot all game.

Salah responded with a match winning performance in the next group game, as his sweetly struck volley midway through the second half gave Egypt a 1-0 win over Guinea Bissau. A MOTM award duly followed.

Mohamed Salah attempted 5 shots and registered 2 successful dribbles in Egypt’s win over Guinea Bissau. No one else registered more in the match.

It was all to play for in the final group game against Sudan. A gritty performance from the seven time African champions earned a 1-0 win that secured their spot in the knockout stages. Egypt had succesfully responded after defeat to Nigeria.

It was a tough pairing in the Round of 16, with the star studded Côte D’Ivoire side ,which had just demolished defending champions Algeria, standing in the way of progression to the quarters. Egypt ground their way through 120 goalless minutes to send it to a penalty shootout.

Salah stepped up to net the winning penalty and dump The Elephants out of the competition. It was fitting as he had been the best player on the pitch. The captain had led his team to the quarter finals and there was more to come.

Mohamed Salah has led his country to the final

Mohamed Salah created the most chances (7) and won the most fouls (4) in Egypt’s penalty shootout victory over Côte D’Ivoire.

The quarter finals saw Mo at his best as he put in another MOTM performance to oust North African rivals Morocco. A tough encounter saw Morocco take an early lead from the penalty spot. Salah cancelled out the lead with a poacher’s finish in the second half to force extra time.

In extra time, he raced clear of his fullback and laid it on a plate for Trezeguet to tap home and win the grudge match. It was Salah at his best, with Trezeguet acknowledging the two time African Footballer of the Year’s genius in his celebration.

Mohamed Salah created the most chances (4) in Egypt’s win over Morocco, with his goal tying him on six all time AFCON goals with Egyptian legend of yesteryear, Mohamed Aboutrika.

The level of difficulty was raised even higher as Egypt faced hosts Cameroon in the semi final. The fire was stroked with Indomitable Lions’ skipper Vincent Aboubakar’s pre-match comments on Salah. Mo got the last laugh in the end.

His side ground their way to another goalless 120 minutes against a superior side. They then held their nerve to win their second penalty shootout of the tournament. Salah didn’t even have to take the final kick with Cameroon missing three of their first four kicks as they crumbled infront of their own supporters.

Egypt had made it all the way through to yet another final. The spirit and desire they showed to get through three consecutive games going to extra time, two penalty shootouts, and victory in the face of adversity was highlighted by their indefatigable skipper.

Salah has led his nation to another AFCON final

Mohamed Salah has created 16 chances at #AFCON2021, no one else has more.

On To The Final

It is set to be a mouthwatering final, with Senegal taking on Egypt. These two sides will also come face to face in March for the World Cup Qualification Playoff. Ot could be the start of a fierce rivalry on the continent.

Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah have won trophies together at Liverpool but will be aiming to deny one another the most elusive trophy of their careers on Sunday. Salah lost the 2017 AFCON final to Cameroon whilst Mané lost the 2019 final to Algeria.

It’s a tough one for Liverpool fans. They will get to cheer on the winner but they will also have to witness heartbreak for one of their top stars on the international stage. On paper, Senegal are favourites but Egypt have been defying odds throughout the tournament.

Egypt have had it tougher getting to the final, having to go through three former champions and going to extra time each time. That may count against them as the final comes around pretty quickly from their semi final win.

They will have to rest and recover as best as they can to face a Senegalese side that has found it’s stride in the knockout stages and had the benefit of an extra day’s rest. Crucially, none of their knockout games has gone to extra time.

Egypt also have the disadvantage of not having either Carlos Quieroz or his assistant on the touchline as they are both serving suspension after being sent off against Cameroon and Morocco respectively.

The odds may be stacked against Egypt once again, but you can never count out the Pharoahs who are chasing an 8th AFCON title. Senegal on the other hand have never won the AFCON, with this being their second consecutive final (third ever final).

Mané and Salah will go head to head on Sunday night in what is sure to be a titanic battle. May the best man win. And may the best man commiserate with the runner-up no matter what. These two will still have to come together and try to win the League Cup final in three weeks.


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