And welcome to live coverage of the final of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations from Yaounde’s Olemebe Stadium. Senegal, beaten finalists in 2019, topped their group with a win and two draws then defeated Cape Verde, Equitorial Guinea and Burkina Faso in the knockout stages in their bid to win their continental championship for the first time. Egypt, a record seven-time winners, were runners-up in their group, winning two after losing their opening fixture against Nigeria, then squeaked victories over Ivory Coast (on pens), Morocco (after extra-time) and the hosts Cameroon (again on pens). They have played a full 90 minutes more than Senegal over the past eight days.
As well as not being taxed by three successive matches going to extra-time and two of them going even further to the nerve-shredding, shootout torment, Senegal have the greater depth of experience from Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy in goal, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly in defence, PSG’s Idrissa Gueye and Palace’s Cheikhou Kouyate in midfield, plus Sadio Mane up top. Predictably, here, its’ all been about the two Liverpool team-mates, Mane and Mohamed Salah, on opposite sides but Mane skirted the issue in the pre-final press conference, stressing the disappointment of their defeat at this stage by Algeria in the last tournament and what it’s taught them.
“Experience is a good asset,” said Mane. “I think that has always been the case since the start of this tournament. We suffered so much with a lot of Covid cases and several injuries too.
“We had a very difficult time but with our experience we kept calm until we recovered the whole group. We played a final last time, so we have experience and we will try to win this trophy.”
Salah was happy to address meeting his Anfield mucker and said those writing them off as too tired after all those extra-times didn’t understand their mentality. “It’s great to play against Senegal as a team and also against Sadio,” he said. “We will be rivals but afterwards we will be team-mates again.
“It’s a final. No one will think about being tired. If we think about being tired we will remember the people in Egypt and think about making them happy. We train good, we recover good, we eat good, we sleep good. Everybody is happy and fit and excited.”
Egypt will have to do it without the presence on the touchline of their head coach Carlos Queiroz who was sent off during the semi-final and will have to sit in the stands. His assistant Diaa El Sayed will be on the sidelines while the former Portugal, Real Madrid and Iran manager, and long-term assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, will sit in lofty exile.