CAIRO (AP) — Sadio Mane will have to settle for a Champions League title. Not such a bad season.
It could have been so much better for the Liverpool forward if Senegal had found a way to end its barren run at the African Cup of Nations, which is now 15 tournaments over 54 years and counting.
Baghdad Bounedjah’s deflected goal in the second minute decided Friday’s African Cup final 1-0 in favor of Algeria and extended Senegal’s wait for a maiden triumph.
Once again, Mane had to watch a Manchester City player — this time in the form of Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez — lift a trophy he came so close to claiming.
Actually, Mane didn’t watch because he and his Senegal teammates had walked off the field at Cairo International Stadium, heads down, socks round their ankles, by the time Mahrez hoisted the golden cup over his head to mark Algeria’s first triumph in 29 years.
Senegal, which has now lost two finals, will keep waiting. It has the unwanted record of playing in more African Cups without winning a title than any other team.
Mane’s attempts to revive Senegal after the early shell-shock of Bounedjah’s goal — an unfortunate deflection which went sailing over goalkeeper Alfred Gomis’ head — ultimately came to nothing.
Mane’s best moment was probably when he tricked his way past his marker and sent a dangerous cross in, only for his left boot to fly off and land at the feet of Algeria goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi. It was the second time Mane lost a boot during the game and had to hobble across the grass to retrieve it.
It was a strange tournament for Mane. He missed Senegal’s opening match of the African Cup through suspension, returned to score three goals, including the winner in the last 16, but also missed two penalties.
His struggles from the spot at the African Cup continued having missed the penalty that saw Senegal eliminated in the quarterfinals two years ago. He didn’t play at the 2015 African Cup because of injury.
At 27, Mane will get another chance with the next Cup of Nations in Cameroon just two years away. And he’ll be consoled by Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah, who lost a final with Egypt two years ago and was eliminated in the last 16 on home soil this year.
Whether Senegal coach Aliou Cuisse gets another chance or is willing to put himself through another African Cup is another question.
Cisse was captain of Senegal when it lost the 2002 final to Cameroon in a penalty shootout. He was the man who missed the decisive penalty that night in Bamako, Mali.
Cisse’s been in charge of Senegal for four years and had been groomed for the head coach role. He thought this was his moment to put it all right.
“It’s been 17 years since Senegal got to this stage of the competition and we’ve only experienced depression and disappointment,” Cisse said. “A final is decided by fine margins and we deserved better tonight.”
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