My 3 Thoughts on the Africa Cup of Nations Final
Senegal Wins Its First Africa Cup of Nations, Edging Egypt on Penalties
Senegal won its first Africa Cup of Nations, beating Egypt in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 game on Sunday. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• Sadio Mané and Édouard Mendy came up big in the end. It was fair to think Egypt had the advantage going into penalties, having won its last five penalty shootouts, including two in this AFCON’s knockout rounds over Ivory Coast and Cameroon. But Chelsea’s Mendy made a terrific save on Mohanad Lasheen in Round 4, and Liverpool’s Mané hit a beautiful hard strike in the next round to seal the trophy. For Mané, it was redemption after he’d had his penalty kick saved by Egypt’s phenomenal keeper Mohamed Abougabal in the seventh minute of this final. Had Mané converted that spot kick and Senegal gone up 1-0 early, we might have seen a completely different game unfold instead of yet another 120 minutes of 0-0 from Egypt for the third time in four games. One other note on the penalties: While I realize that Egypt usually has superstar Mohamed Salah go fifth, it doesn’t make any sense to do that and leave your best player without a kick in situations like this one.
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• The game before the penalties was a forgettable one. The teams combined for a whopping 53 fouls (30 by Egypt, 23 by Senegal) in a match that was often defined by starts and stops and Egypt wasting time as much as possible trying to get to penalties. Senegal certainly created more in the attack and had a 57%-43% possession advantage, but the Teranga Lions couldn’t shoot straight, firing shots alarmingly over the bar on numerous occasions. Egypt’s strategy was to defend-defend-defend, get a few set-pieces and hope to work the ball to Salah on the break, but the world’s most in-form player didn’t have many opportunities and could have used more help from a team that relies almost entirely on Salah to produce goals.
• Senegal has the players to do well at the World Cup, but it’s not there just yet. You came away from this tournament feeling like Africa’s best team is raising the trophy, and that’s a good thing. And if Senegal can make it to Qatar, it has the quality—Mané, Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Gana Gueye and coach Aliou Cissé—to make a real run at the World Cup. You might recall that in 2018 Senegal became the first country ever to be eliminated from a World Cup on the fair-play points tiebreaker, resulting in zero African teams making it to the knockout rounds. But this generation is at the height of its powers and clearly capable of a deep run. The only obstacle in Senegal’s way to Qatar? Egypt, which will meet Senegal in two World Cup qualifying playoffs in March.
What were your thoughts on the game? You can share them in the comments below.
I too thought it was a forgettable game. Both goalies did well but don't see the offenses had any set plans to make goals. Was hoping for something more exciting. Looking forward to see how the WCQs play out.