EgyptAfrican Nations CupVS
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After nearly four weeks of thrills and spills, we find ourselves at the final of AFCON, as Senegal, fresh from a convincing win over Burkina Faso on Wednesday, take on an Egypt side that needed penalties for the second time this tournament in their win over hosts Cameroon.
Senegal are on the cusp of history, having never won the continent’s biggest crown, while the Pharaohs will be going for a record-extending eighth AFCON title.
But they will surely be feeling the effects of a mammoth semi-final with Cameroon that went beyond 120 minutes and into a penalty shootout. Calamitous spot-kicks from the Indomitable Lions certainly helped, but Egypt have that knack for coming out of close games on the right side, so could that be the same again here?
There’s no denying that Senegal have the upper hand when it comes to the respective squads, but the same could probably have been said about Cameroon when Egypt faced them on Thursday, and the hosts were also in great form before that fixture.
But the seven-time winners are unbelievably resolute as a defensive unit and have been the best side in the tournament when not in possession.
There’s also the small matter of Mo Salah, with the Liverpool winger yet to really show his true self during the tournament. That said, Senegal are unlikely to play with the same attacking zest that they normally would, knowing that Salah is lurking on the counter.
Egypt have conceded only two goals at AFCON so far and only once since their 1-0 defeat to Nigeria in their opening game.
Senegal could well nick this in extra time, but their nerves could play a part in what will be a cagey game that is likely to be short on goals. So, our selection for the AFCON final is a draw in 90 minutes at around the 2/1 mark with Sportnation.
Senegal took a little bit of time to get going at AFCON, scoring only one goal and drawing two of their three group games, but they’re certainly making up for lost time in the knockout stages.
Three wins inside 90 minutes is just the tonic for a squad that is always going to be on the tired side at a major tournament, while they’ve loosened up nicely as an attacking force, scoring eight goals in their last three games.
The Lions of Teranga are packed with stars plying their trade in Europe and their big-game experience is likely to play a huge part in what is the biggest match in the country’s history.
Boss Aliou Cisse, who will be familiar to Premier League fans following spells at Birmingham City and Portsmouth, is under huge pressure to deliver silverware and could well face the sack if he doesn’t get the job done in Yaounde.
We expect to see an unchanged side from the semi-final victory over Burkina Faso, with the likes of Mane and Kalidou Koilibaly both certain to start.
The hallmark of any great side is to win when you’re not at your best and Egypt have managed that for near-enough the duration of this year’s AFCON.
There have been very little in the way of sparkling performances, with much of their displays being filed away in the “gritty” category.
But what matters most is that they’re in the Sunday showpiece, but there will be concerns about the fitness of a side that has completed 120 minutes of football in all three of their knockout games, as well as playing out two penalty shootouts.
That is likely to stand them in good stead, though, should this game go all the way. They’ve picked up some big scalps at the tournament already, in the form of Ivory Coast and Morocco, so they certainly won’t be phased by the challenge of Senegal.
Perhaps the most notable absentee from the side on Sunday will be the manager, after Carlos Queiroz was sent off for a heated exchange with the officials during their semi-final victory.
Senegal and Egypt have faced off just 12 times and there’s very little to suggest we will be in for a glut of goals in the Cameroonian capital.
All but one of the games have resulted in over 2.5 goals, and on only one occasion has both teams scored! Senegal have the slight edge in the head-to-head with six wins, while Egypt have four victories of their own.
The AFCON final takes place at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, which is where the opening game between Cameroon and Burkina Faso took place.
Both sides have been based in the city since the quarter-final stage, with Egypt’s win on Wednesday taking place at the stadium, but this will be Senegal’s first taste of football there of this tournament.
This one really could go either way, but the nature of the game, combined with the head-to-head history between the two sides, makes us think this is going well past 90 minutes.
Egypt’s stout defensive record makes them Senegal’s biggest test when it comes to breaking a side down, while the match-up between Liverpool teammates Mane and Salah will have onlookers licking their lips.
This has all the hallmarks for an exciting yet tense game, but we think a low-scoring draw in the 90 is the way to go.