Can Mo Salah or Sadio Mane do a Champions League/AFCON double?
Background photo: Realman208, CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane teamed up to plunder Europe's biggest prize for Liverpool this season. Between 21st June and 19th July, though, they’ll be sworn foes in the tussle to win the African Cup of Nations for their respective countries. The question is, which is most likely to lead his nation to continental glory?
Salah vs Mane
All season long, the race between these two to top the Reds scoring chart was neck and neck. The Merseysiders profited from the competition. In the end, the duo was forced to share the Premier League golden boot award with Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Across all competitions, Salah claimed the advantage by a single goal, the spot-kick he converted against Tottenham in the Champions League finals. While it isn't in the Egyptian to brag, he wouldn't be able to say much given it was Mane who won the penalty.
The competition will heat up at AFCON, not just because it's the first summer edition of the tournament. Both men are the X-factor for their nations. Not just the most in-form African forwards, along with Auba, they’re riding the momentum of being European champions.
It's still too close to call although each now has a different crew backing him.
Senegal and Mane
How far can the Lions of Teranga go in this tournament?
The Senegalese find themselves stuffed in a group featuring Algeria and Kenya. Considering the Lions feature skipper Mane, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Everton’s Idrissa Gana and Inter Milan’s Keita Balde, this is their group to win.
Mane is blessed with a team that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents. They’re certainly among the contenders for the AFCON title, assuming they don’t meet a monumental roadblock like Nigeria along the way.
Despite their best efforts, however, Senegal is yet to lift the AFCON. Conversely, the Pharaohs have won the tournament a record seven times.
Salah and Egypt
Beyond whatever Salah brings, the Egyptians thrive on teamwork. Anyone who’s followed the Pharaohs over the last decade notes their confidence in home-based players and coaches. Home cooking has produced sumptuous feasts for the North Africans.
Mo Salah’s emergence initiated a slight deviation from the status quo. Egypt now sees him as a Pharaoh among Pharaohs.
A few other Egyptians footballers ply their trade in Europe and have been invited to the tournament by Coach Javier Aguirre. Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and West Brom’s Ahmed Hegazi are known to English fans but neither commands the intimidating presence of the Egyptian king in Merseyside.
For the home-based contingent, Ahmed Ali Kamel is the man to watch. The Arab Contractors striker emerged top-scorer in the Egyptian Premier League this season with 18 goals. The feat earned him a return to the national team after an eight-year absence. At 33, he'll let Salah do the running.
In addition to their cohesion, the Pharaohs always seem to win the AFCON when they host it. Of the four prior occasions, they conquered the continent three times. The one time they hosted and didn’t win, they still picked up the bronze medal.
Senegal boasts a strong team. The Lions gave a better account of themselves at the World Cup than the Pharaohs. The Senegalese are the new Ivory Coast but it’s the Egyptians who strike more fear. They’re experts in conquering Africa. Add that to the edge provided by reigning African Footballer of the Year Mohamed Salah and you shouldn’t be betting against the Pharaohs on home soil.