Sadio Mane says winning Senegal’s first Africa Cup of Nations is the highlight of his career.
He scored the winning penalty in the shootout against Egypt, having seen a first-half spot-kick saved as Sunday’s game ended 0-0 after extra time.
The West Africans had previously lost two Nations Cup finals, including a 1-0 defeat by Algeria three years ago.
“It’s the best day of my life and the best trophy of my life,” the 29-year-old Liverpool forward said.
“I won the Champions League and some [other] trophies but this is the special one for me. This is more important for me.
“I am happy for myself, my people and all of my family.”
Mane had been given a chance to give Senegal an early lead in Cameroon after Saliou Ciss was brought down in the area by Mohamed Abdelmonem in the fourth minute.
However, he saw his attempt beaten away by Egypt keeper Gabaski.
Mane credits his team-mates with giving him the strength to return in the shootout, where he sealed a 4-2 triumph.
“When I missed the first penalty, it was a big blow for me,” he said.
“But my team-mates came to me and said ‘Sadio, we lose together and we win together. We know you. You have done too much for us – keep on going’.
“That made me stronger and I think it made the difference when I got the second one.
“All the boys came to me and said ‘Sadio, we trust you’ and that gave me more motivation. The trophy belongs to the whole Senegal team – everyone deserves it.”
Mane was also named player of the tournament, and the morning after the final he posted a picture of himself in bed with the trophy and his winner’s medal.
Alhamdoulilah! pic.twitter.com/Z3UIcg3Nrv— Sadio Mané (@SMane_Officiel) February 7, 2022
Mane praised for courage after early miss
Gabaski’s save from Mane in Yaounde was the fourth time the Senegalese had been foiled from 12 yards when playing at the Nations Cup.
Mane saw his effort saved in the quarter-final shootout defeat by Cameroon in 2017, and two years later he failed to convert in the group game against Kenya and the last-16 tie with Uganda – although he did score in both of those games.
Former Nigeria striker Daniel Amokachi, a Nations Cup winner in 1994, said Mane “showed a lot of character” to take a penalty again in the shootout against the Pharaohs.
“I wasn’t feeling it when he stepped forward, but you can see how he drilled that ball into the corner,” Amokachi told the BBC World Service.
“That’s what a star player is all about. I did say that we’ve seen him miss chances when playing for Liverpool but the character that he puts into the game, the quality always comes through in the end.”
Former Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, a Nations Cup winner with Ivory Coast in 2015 after defeats on penalties in the 2006 and 2012 finals, praised Mane’s “courage”, while Efan Ekoku described Mane’s eventual winner as “the biggest kick of his life”.
“I’m so pleased for Sadio Mane,” former Nigeria striker Ekoku said on BBC Three.
“He’s been through a lot with his national side. He was brave, and what a penalty. The keeper was beaten by the accuracy just as much as the power.”
Coach dedicates win to whole of Senegal
For Senegal coach Aliou Cisse, it was victory at the third attempt in the Nations Cup final.
The 45-year-old captained the Teranga Lions when they finished as runners-up in 2002 – missing the decisive penalty in the shootout against Cameroon – and was in the dugout in 2019.
He dedicated the victory to his countrymen before his post-match press conference was interrupted by his squad for celebrations.
“It was long, it was difficult, at times complicated but we never gave up,” Cisse said.
“I think that really proves the mental strength of this generation. We are very happy, we dedicate this victory to the Senegalese people, because since independence until now we are running after this first star.
“Today, we will also have a star on our shirt.”
Tens of thousands of jubilant Senegal fans took to the streets of Dakar to celebrate late into the night on Sunday, waving national flags, dancing and firing fireworks into the air, and Monday was declared a national holiday to mark the side’s triumph in Cameroon.
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