Mane, Mahrez the fuel needed to ignite AFCON final

Mane is the key for Senegal
Mane is the key for Senegal

Sadio Mane is fresh from arguably his best season, after playing a crucial role in guiding Liverpool to a sixth European title in June, while Riyad Mahrez, while not exactly at his individual best, is looking to add an unprecedented fourth title of the season when his Algeria clash with Senegal in what should be a gripping Africa Cup of Nations final, writes MQONDISI DUBE

Far from the lush fields of England, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City, will take their battle to the towering Egyptian pyramids at 9pm tonight.

It has been an exhausting but fulfilling campaign for the two, with Mane winning his first trophy since joining Liverpool in 2016, while Mahrez’s first campaign at the Etihad yielded a treble.

Mahrez is now on the cusp of grabbing an unprecedented fourth title of the season, which would make him one of the world’s most decorated this season.

Mane is chasing a second title, and just before the Africa Cup of Nations finals, he said he would trade his Champions League winners medal for the nations cup trophy.

But now, after reaching the AFCON final, he has been presented with the opportunity to bag both.

Despite their status as heavyweights on the continent, Senegal are yet to land the AFCON trophy, while Algeria’s only triumph came 29 years ago.

Mane will look to succeed where even the great 2002 squad, which took the world by storm, faltered.

In that year, a Senegalese side containing the best talent, reached the AFCON final but lost to Cameroon, 3-2 after a penalty shoot-out.

Astonishingly, the squad reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea.

The team shocked then holders France 1-0 in the opening match, as Senegal carried powerful arsenal in Papa Diop, Khalilou Fadiga and El-Hadji Diouf amongst an array of stars.

Current coach, Aliou Cisse was marshalling the defence in 2002, and it will be befitting for him to break the trophy drought for his country.

Senegal are one of the few sides to have stuck with their local coach, and Algeria have done the same.

Algerian Djamel Belmadi was born and raised in France, where he went on to have a stellar career, before moving to Manchester City in England.

Cisse also spent a large chunk of his career in France, and probably their football philosophies have crossed paths.

Their tactical nous will be tested as they deploy their key men, Mahrez and Mane to steer their respective nations to glory.

Mane has had an outstanding individual season, finishing as the joint top goal scorer in the English Premier League, with 22 goals.

He was a constant menace down the flank at Liverpool, although for Senegal, he has provided a more direct outlet.

He is joint third on the goal scorer’s charts with three, two behind Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo.

Mane deserves mention when the Ballon d’or winner is decided.

It has not been a great individual season for Mahrez, who faced some hostile moments in his first season with City.

But he has been instrumental for Algeria, firing an unstoppable, last minute free-kick against Nigeria, which sent the North Africans to their first final since 1990.

His left foot is still as dangerous as it was when it powered Leicester City to a fairy-tale title in the English Premier League in 2016.

Both Senegal and Algeria will look to raise the levels after a largely disappointing tournament, which has failed to thrill.

The empty stands have been the unwanted hallmark of the tournament in the land of the Pharaohs, but all that will be forgotten, if the two giants serve up a succulent football dish at the Cairo International Stadium.

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