Together Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have lifted the Premier League and Champions League for Liverpool, but only one can fulfil their dreams on the international stage on Sunday when they face off in the Africa Cup of Nations final. Mane’s Senegal are Africa’s highest ranked side but have never been crowned continental champions. By contrast, seven-time champions Egypt have won the tournament more times than any other nation, but their last success came before Salah’s debut in 2011. Egypt’s greatest ever player said earlier in the tournament that lifting the trophy in Yaounde on Sunday as captain would mean even more than the success that has made him a world star at club level.
Salah would then have the international medal to go with scintillating goalscoring form this season to bolster his chances of being crowned the first African player to win the Ballon d’Or since 1995 and only the second of all time after Liberia’s George Weah.
The Pharaohs have needed a sprinkling of Salah’s star dust to liven up an otherwise uninspired run in Cameroon.
He scored and set up in the winner to beat Morocco 2-1 in the quarter-finals, either side of 0-0 draws with Ivory Coast and Cameroon decided on penalties.
Salah’s 23 goals in 26 appearances for Liverpool this season have sparked clamour and fear among some at Anfield over his contractual situation with his deal set to run out in the summer of 2023.
However, the same applies to Mane, who not for the first time in his Liverpool career has a right to feel underappreciated given the attention focused on Salah.
Mane also has over 100 Liverpool goals since joining from Southampton in 2016 and was just as pivotal to Jurgen Kopp’s men winning the Champions League and Premier League in back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020.
At times Mane’s frustration at Salah’s selfishness has boiled over.
After being substituted in a 3-0 win at Burnley in 2019, Mane had to be restrained by teammates as he raged at Klopp to reprimand Salah for not teeing him up with a simple chance moments earlier.
“I had been a little bit frustrated because it is football and I wanted to score more goals,” said Mane afterwards. “It is forgotten and behind us.”
Despite Salah’s star status, there are divided loyalties for staff and fans on Merseyside given Mane’s popularity.
“Now it’s obviously not so easy because one will definitely be really happy after and the other one much less so,” said Klopp on Friday. “But both have a good chance to achieve something really big.”
Mane has not been at his best for the Reds this season, but has shone in an eventful run to the final for the Lions of Teranga.
He was forced off with a suspected concussion moments after scoring a sublime opening goal against Cape Verde in the last 16.
But he has not missed another minute as Aliou Cisse’s men have hit form at the business end of the tournament with 3-1 wins over Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Egypt pose a much tougher task, but the chance for Mane to put Salah in his shade for once would make victory all the sweeter for Senegal’s icon.
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