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Teammates in Liverpool, the Egyptian Mohamed Salah and the Senegalese Sadio Mané meet Sunday face to face in the final of the CAN-2022, in Yaoundé. An opportunity for these two exceptional strikers to finally win a trophy with their national team.
It is a wink that did not escape journalists. Sunday January 30, in the bays of the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaoundé, where the quarter-finals of CAN-2022 were taking place, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane bumped into each other and exchanged a few words. What did these two strikers say to each other, who play together in Liverpool, in the Premier League? Mystery… Officially, the Egyptian has heard from the Senegalese, victim of a concussion Few days ago. The sports romantics rather imagine that they are given an appointment in the final.
A week later, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah will honor this meeting on the lawn of the Stade d’Olembé, Sunday, February 6, for the final of the African Cup. The two friends indeed allowed their respective selections to triumph in the semi-finals, Senegal by dismissing Burkina Faso (3-1) and Egypt by winning against Cameroon (0-0, tab 1-3).
If they have each already won the African Golden Ball in recent years, they now dream of finally winning a trophy with their national team
From their homeland to their dream
The two men share many points in common: from a modest background, then spotted and trained in their country of origin. For Sadio Mané, a native of southern Senegal, it was the Génération Foot academy that spotted him before sending him to his partner club, FC Metz. “Mo” Salah cut his teeth in Cairo and even became, at 17, the youngest player to play in the Egyptian championship, before flying to Europe.
The career of the Pharaoh is not a long calm river before Liverpool, where he arrives in 2017 with the status of the most expensive African player in history (42 million euros). A record that he steals from Sadio Mané, who arrived the previous year for 36 million euros. Two transfers that come directly from the will of coach Jürgen Klopp.
Alongside Roberto Firmino, the two players will form a dream attack line that still delights Reds fans today. And the titles follow: Champions League 2019, Club World Cup 2019 and English Championship 2020.
Practicing Muslim and philanthropist
Their popularity goes well beyond the pitch, however, and both Liverpool players are also valued for their actions off the pitch. Mohamed Salah multiplies the speeches against drugs and against violence against women. In his village, the number 11 of the Reds has built a football field, a hospital, schools and a religious institute. Sadio Mané did the same in his native village of Bambaly.
Another common point unites the two men: religion. Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah are practicing Muslims who fully assume their religion and who are supported in this sense by their club.
“Sadio Mane and Mo Salah do their ablutions before each game. We have to come to the locker room earlier to allow them to be ready for the game”, explained their coach Jürgen Klopp, in the documentary “The end of the storm”. “So we always finish our warm-ups two minutes early to allow time for our Muslim players. […] I have no problem giving them those two minutes to allow them time to do something that is absolutely important to them.”
>> To read also: Mohamed Salah, the Pharaoh who converted Liverpool fans
A natural integration of their faith in the daily life of the team which would have even contributed to reduce Islamophobia in Englandaccording to a 2019 study.
Become the greatest player in the history of their country
Still, despite their track record, these two men lack a step to take to definitively acquire the status of best player in the history of their national team.
Indeed, Mohamed Salah continues to evolve in the shadow of Mohamed Aboutrika. The former midfielder won five African Champions League with the Cairo club Al Ahly and two CAN with Egypt (2008 and 2010). Successes, which are moreover acquired at home, which allow the native of Giza to still hold the comparison with “Mo” in the hearts of the Egyptians… until Salah offers an eighth African Cup to his compatriots?
For Sadio Mané, the protective shadow is called El Hadji Diouf. Also passed by Liverpool, the charismatic striker was a figurehead of the golden generation of the early 2000s, who played in the first World Cup in Senegal’s history and reached the CAN-2002 final. Always very present in the entourage of the Lions of Teranga, Diouf plays the sacred union and hopes that Sadio Mané will manage to lift the first trophy in the history of the country.
The two men have largely contributed to guide their selection towards this final: Sadio Mané already has three goals and two assists to his name while Mo Salah has scored two goals and made an assist. But their influence cannot be reduced to these figures: they are the real metronomes of their selection.
One of the two will inevitably fail in his quest for the trophy on Sunday evening. “It’s obviously not easy because one will certainly be very happy afterwards and the other much less. They both have a good chance of achieving something really big, however,” said Jürgen Klopp, their coach. at a press conference.
Magnanimous, he promised the winner that he could go and celebrate the title in the country. The other will however have to return as soon as possible. He needs his services from Thursday against Leicester in the Premier League.