Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are getting ready to face off against each other in the Afcon final in Cameroon this weekend after Egypt beat the hosts on penalties on Thursday to set up a clash with Senegal.
Egyptian captain Salah did not need to step up in the semifinal shoot-out as Cameroon failed three times from the spot, allowing the Pharaohs to win 3-1 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes in Yaounde.
That was after Mane starred with a goal and an assist as Senegal overcame Burkina Faso to win 3-1 in the first semifinal a day earlier.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp could have been forgiven for wishing both players had been knocked out of the tournament sooner so they could return to Anfield, but he expressed delight for the attacking duo on Friday.
“It is a great achievement for both getting through to the final,” Klopp said in a press conference ahead of his team’s FA Cup tie against Cardiff on Sunday.
That game will be played just a few hours before the Cup of Nations climax at the Olembe Stadium.
“So far it’s been a really successful tournament for our boys. It will be exciting.
“Now it’s obviously not so easy because one will definitely be really happy after and the other one much less so, but both have a good chance to achieve something really big.”
It will be a second Afcon final appearance for Salah, a member of the Egypt team beaten by Cameroon in the 2017 showpiece in Libreville.
The 29-year-old has already admitted his determination to lift the Cup of Nations for his country, having made his international debut in 2011, a year after they won their last continental title.
“This trophy for me would be completely different. It would be the closest one to my heart,” Salah, who has won the Premier League and Champions League at Liverpool, said earlier in the tournament.
WORLD CUP CLASH TO COME
Mane has endured similar disappointment at the Cup of Nations, playing in the Senegal team that lost to Algeria in the final in Egypt in 2019.
The Lions of Teranga are Africa’s top-ranked national team but have never been continental champions, in stark contrast to Egypt and their record seven titles.
Both players have already starred in Cameroon, with Mane netting three times for Senegal and setting up goals in both the quarterfinal against Equatorial Guinea and the semifinal.
Salah has scored two goals and converted the decisive penalty in Egypt’s shoot-out win over the Ivory Coast in the last 16.
He was shut out of most of the semifinal by the Cameroon defence, but Egypt hope he will be lead them to victory on Sunday.
“Salah is not only the best player in Egypt but a world-class player and his presence is a boost for the other members of the team,” said Egypt assistant coach Diaa al-Sayed, speaking after coach Carlos Queiroz was sent off in the semifinal.
“He is a guide and a leader. His presence is so crucial for us. He came here to win and we hope he will.”
It will be the first time the duo have come up against each other at international level since they became teammates at Liverpool, but it will not be the last time this year.
Sunday’s match is the first of a series of huge clashes to come between Senegal and Egypt as they have also been drawn to play each other in a two-legged World Cup qualifying play-off in March.
Only one will make it to the finals in Qatar later this year, and only one will be crowned African champion on Sunday.