BY KUNLE SOLAJA
As the curtain gets set to fall on the largest ever Africa Cup of Nations, all eyes will be on two star players – Riyad Mahrez of Algeria and Sadio Mane, the talisman of Senegal.
The success of their respective teams may be determined by the performances of these two stars.
Mahrez was almost singularly responsible for the team’s march to the final. It was the Manchester City’s £60m winger’s pull out from the right wing that Nigeria’s William Troost-Ekong inadvertently deflected into his own net.
Then in the last minute of the epic semi-final match, his well taken free kick gave Algeria the winning goal.
Can he leave up to his calling today? In the other camp, Senegal depends on Sadio Mane, who for two years running has been beaten by his Liverpool teammate, Mohamed Salah as Africa’s soccer king.
His time appears to have come now. Donning the iconic number 10 for both club and country, time seems to have come for him to explode.
No stage is better other than the biggest ever Africa Cup of Nations in history. He could win the first title for his honour-starved country, which even though ranked as Africa’s number one, but yet to win an African title!
Mane as Liverpool’s No10 spent the 2018/19 campaign engrossed in an enrapturing, nip-and-tuck battle for Premier League glory with Algeria’s Mahez in Manchester City.
Now they are set to meet for the second time at this CAF Africa Cup of Nations – Algeria edged Senegal 1-0 in the group stage – after Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane inspired a final between the nations.
While Senegal are Africa’s number one, Algeria are positioned a distance 12th. Will the often-criticized FIFA ranking be proven right? The events at the Cairo International Stadium later tonight will decide.
Also as possible yardsticks are the players’ ratings across all platforms – the English Premiership and international matches.
For Algeria’s Mahrez, this match will be his 53rd appearance in Algerian colours while the backbreaking goal he inflicted against Nigeria last Sunday was his 13th, an unlucky number that proved to be the Nigerian nemesis.
Mane, a better-known star has a higher statistics. The Africa Cup of Nations final match will be his 61st appearance for Senegal at Grade A level. He has scored 18 times for the honour-starved nation that is in the final match for the first time in 17 years.
Both Mane and Mahrez are recent stars in African Football. Mahrez, born in France, reportedly made his international debut when he was 23 and just 12 days to Brazil 2014 World Cup.
In 2016, he became the first Algerian to win the CAF African Footballer of the Year award since Rabah Madjer in 1987
Mane made his international debut shortly after turning 20 in 2012. He missed the last penalty as Senegal lost a shoot-out to Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations’ quarterfinals in 2017.
He later redeemed himself later that year with a crucial goal against Burkina Faso and a palatial performance against South Africa to send The Lions of Teranga to their second World Cup.
He was superb in Senegal’s first two matches at Russia 2018.
MAJOR HONOURS: MANE VS MAHREZ
- 2 Premier League titles (2015/16 & 2018/19)
- English FA Cup (2018/19)
- English League Cup (2018/19)
- UEFA Champions League (2018/19)
- Austrian Bundesliga (2013/14)
- Austrian Cup (2013/14)