Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane will renew their Premier League rivalry for a second time in Egypt, with Africa Cup of Nations immortality awaiting the victor of Friday’s final between Algeria and Senegal.
Algerian star Mahrez was part of the Manchester City team that edged out Mane’s Liverpool for the English title last season, grabbing a pivotal goal on the final day of the campaign.
Liverpool standout Mane, however, is attempting to fulfil his “wildest dream” as one of just a handful of Africans to win both the UEFA Champions League and Cup of Nations.
For the marquee name in a Senegalese side ranked top of the continent, and a surprising 46 places above Algeria, the ride to the final for Mane and the Teranga Lions has encountered its share of roadbumps.
Senegal vs. Algeria
Lions vs. Fennecs
Red vs. Blue
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 19, 2019
Two missed Mane spot-kicks, a group-stage loss to Algeria, and the loss of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to a broken finger have tested Senegal’s resolve in their quest for the Holy Grail of African football.
Coach Aliou Cisse is on a mission for personal redemption. He was the skipper of the side beaten on penalties in the 2002 final, with his missed kick handing the title to Cameroon.
“Having lost that final, I still have it on my mind,” said former Paris Saint-Germain and Birmingham City midfielder Cisse.
“What motivated me to become a coach was to be able to take Senegal to the final. My players told me they would do better than my generation.”
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) July 19, 2019
A maiden Cup of Nations for his country is a prize for which Mane readily admitted he would trade in last month’s Champions League title.
“I’m ready to even swap a Champions League for a Cup of Nations. Going to Dakar with the trophy would be extraordinary. It would be my wildest dream,” Mane told France Football ahead of the competition.
And the worrying statistic for Senegal, beaten 1-0 by Algeria last month, is only one group-stage loser went on to lift the trophy when the teams faced each other again.
Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) fell 2-1 to Ghana in a 1968 group game, but turned the tables by winning the final 1-0 in Addis Ababa.
It's #AFCON2019 final day ?
Who wins? Senegal or Algeria?
— Goal (@goal) July 19, 2019
In the other six cases, the eventual champion won three and drew three of the first meetings before going on to conquer Africa.
Algeria was involved in a rematch 29 years ago when it staged the Cup of Nations, edging Nigeria 1-0 in the title decider after thumping the same opponent 5-1 in the opening match.
The Desert Foxes failed miserably in World Cup qualifying, but the steely Belmadi has healed divisions in the squad to lead them to the brink of a first Cup of Nations triumph since 1990.
“To the Algerian people, I want to say I’m not a politician, not a miracle worker or a wizard, but that we will fight like we have fought to this point,” Belmadi said after the semi-final win over Nigeria.
— SuperSport ⚽️? (@SuperSportTV) July 18, 2019
Algeria are the leading scorers in Egypt with 12 goals, including Mahrez’s spectacular last-gasp free-kick against Nigeria, and haven’t trailed at all in the tournament.
“Algeria are so well organised, so compact, so ‘Guardiolaesque’ in the way they recover the ball,” opined experienced international coach Claude Le Roy.
“Perhaps it is the influence of Mahrez.” The Algeria captain has been in fine form for his country here, brimming with confidence after helping City to the domestic treble.
“We are very happy to be in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations because it is something very special,” said Mahrez.