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Mahrez vs Mane: Who Will Rise to Grab the AFCON Title?

If there is a match not to be missed this week then it that has to be this Friday’s Africa Cup of Nations final pitting two of the continent’s most dreaded mavericks.

If there is a match not to be missed this week then it that has to be this Friday’s Africa Cup of Nations final pitting two of the continent’s most dreaded mavericks.

It certainly shouldn’t be imagined that only the duo will be facing each other alone. But their meeting occurs on the occasion Senegal crosses daggers with Algeria – a promising thriller episode that would sure get football fans off their seat. Both teams boast of an array of quality plays at their disposal. However, in a day and age when individual battles take a pivotal front seat in the modern game, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez have found themselves being inevitably compared. They certainly did not reach the last stage without the combined efforts of teammates but their contributions speak volumes.

It might as well be tagged the battle of captains on a mission to claim a big prize as both are skippers to their sides. Only one though will emerge supreme. The battle lines have been drawn as the race for glory tees off.


One being a confirmed European Cup champion with Liverpool and the other a Premier League winner for Manchester City of England, the journey to the last drive in Cairo hasn’t been smooth sailing.

Riyad Mahrez has been involved in all six of Algeria’s outings –clocking a game more than his rival Sadio Mane who had to sit out Senegal’s Nations Cup opener with Tanzania owing to card accumulation. When the erstwhile Southampton man hit the ground running, it was a meeting with nemesis Mahrez and Algeria. It no doubt was a must-watch when the whistle went. The North Africans wriggled out of that cracker with their reputation intact, taking a Mohamed Youcef Belaili’s 48th-minute drive to part the two in a 50-50 keenly contested affair at the June Air Defence Stadium.

Neither Riyad nor Sadio were hauled off. The Desert Foxes would follow that up with victories over Tanzania and Kenya unbeaten and on nine points, leaving the Taranga Lions to qualify via the second-best slot.

Realities in the group stage of this year’s edition were a far-flung case from the Gabon tournament when the two outfits were pitted in the same pool. Algeria ended up tying eventual group winners Senegal 2-2 but crashed out in the groupings having garnered just two points, zero wins in three fixtures. Romanian-born 70-year-old Goerges Leekens, then the gaffer for the Algerians, had the axe wielded on him shortly following his return for an abysmal showing.

An exchange of words is expected in the lead up to Friday’s match, adding to an already hyped affair.


Interestingly, the finale is not only a Sadio Mane-Mahrez frenzy as the opposition gaffers also have their scores to settle and proving to make.

Unlike Algeria’s Djamel Belmadi, Aliou Cisse’s role as coach of the West Africans was becoming increasingly untenable in the run-up to the Nations Cup. Senegalese fans were umbraged at their early exit of the World Cup and apportioned quarter of the blame on the shoulders of Cisse. Fallouts marred their Russia bow with veteran strikers Moussa Sow, Diafra Sakho including the retired controversial El Hadji Diouf, faulting Aliou amid talks of a dressing room rift.

The Senegalese government –his immediate employers – initially dug their heels over handing him an improved deal but when they finally did, it came with a condition – the AFCON title or get sacked.

The Macky Sall’s leadership’s bold ultimatum is precipitated by the wealth of talent at their disposal.

Belmadi does not have such an onus to contend with but knows there’s a floodgate of trust in him especially after he’d managed to assemble a squad with a chronic history of dressing room bust-ups.

With a now enhanced reputation, grabbing the AFCON title will be the cherry to the cake for Belmadi and he has captain Mahrez to count on in that regard.


Honours are meant to fete feats achieved and the AFCON golden boot will seek to do just that. Finishing leading scorer must be driven by inimitable individual brilliance culminating into shaking of the net. Mahrez and Mane have ticked that with each on three goals –a tie they will wish broken on Friday night. Sadio opened his account in the 3-0 demolition of Kenya, plundering in a brace as Ismaila Sarr accounted for the other. The Anfield outfit’s forward followed that up with another bang against Uganda when teammate Mbaye Niang turned his provider.

The Manchester City striker first netted against Kenya then the second coming in the 3-0 drubbing of Guinea Conakry. The sumptuous jaw-dropping free-kick that wowed the Super Eagles had the 28-year-old’s tally soaring to three.


In retrospect, this tie wouldn’t have existed had Mane been that perfect spot-kick taker. He relinquished the role after scuffing a penalty, shifting that responsibility to avoid being haunted by the ghost of the past when he scuppered the spot-kick that confirmed their exit two years ago.

Currently, in the form of his life, he finds himself being compared to legend El Hadji Diouf – a man the diminutive built winger takes for a role model.

Of late, there is this flick of antagonism coming from Diouf towards Mane which most say is borne out of envy after Sadio’s Champions League triumph knocked the ex-Bolton man off his perch as the greatest Senegalese footballer of all times.

So, Mane will more than anything want to scoop it all there is of trophies in this AFCON to prove a further point to Diouf.

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