Yaounde - The Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final between Egypt and Senegal that takes place at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon on Sunday (9pm SA time) has, understandably, been dubbed as the Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane show.
After all, the two Liverpool stars have been influential in their countries reaching the ultimate stage of the competition.
It stands to reason then that Salah and Mane will be looked upon to respectively lead the Pharaohs to an eighth title or the Lions of Teranga to a maiden title.
However, the men directly opposite them could have a bigger say on the outcome.
Goalkeepers Edouard Mendy and Mohamed Gabaski Abou-Gabal are two men with fascinating career tales for whom continental glory would mean a lot.
Having both missed their country’s initial matches for differing reasons they have since proven themselves somewhat indispensable for their sides.
Mendy sat out Senegal’s initial matches due to illness but was no doubt inspired for the event by being voted the world’s best goalkeeper at the Fifa Awards on January 17. The Chelsea number one has since lived up to that lofty billing by guiding Senegal to their third appearance in the final.
That the France-born goalie is now a winner of both the European Champions League and the Super Cup is a reality even he wouldn’t have predicted a while ago. The 29-year-old only turned professional five years ago.
He had a forgetful maiden Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in 2019 when he broke his finger ahead of a match. In Cameroon this year he sat out the first two matches due to being positive for Covid-19 but has been brilliant since then.
Abou-Gabal’s story is a confirmation that you still have a chance as long as you are alive.
The Zamalek goalkeeper being the man likely to help the Pharaohs to their first continental glory since 2010 would have been unthinkable for even the player himself only recently. Gabaski earned his first cap back in 2011 and was never given a chance to play for his country for the next decade.
He went to Cameroon with just two caps to his name and was never really going to play – at least not with the brilliant Mohamed El-Shennawi ahead of him in the pecking order.
But when the Al Ahly number one suffered a hamstring injury during the round of 16 clash against the Ivory Coast, Gabaski’s chance came and he made a brilliant save during the penalty shoot-out which the Pharaohs won 5-4.
He earned national acclaim in the quarterfinal against Morocco when he was forced to play on despite sustaining a groin injury, and when he eventually left the field, he was seen shouting instructions and encouragement to his replacement Mohamed Sobhi.
Gabaski was back in goal in the semi-final against Cameroon. Sporting massive strapping on his groin, he still dished out a stellar performance, pulling off two fantastic saves in the shoot-out as Egypt accounted for the hosts 3-1.
Given that Egypt have essentially played a full extra match courtesy of three extra time periods of 30 minutes each (plus two penalty shootouts) to get to the final and would have had a day less to rest before Saturday’s match, the odds should slightly be in Senegal’s favour.
Add to that the fact that the Pharaohs will not have both their head coach Carlos Quieroz and his assistant Roger de Sa who are both suspended and you have to bet on the Lions of Teranga winning their maiden Afcon title.
But the Egyptians have shown in this tournament and in many others before that they tend to thrive when they are up against it.
Will it be the Salah/Mane show as many have billed it or will Mendy or Gabaski steal the limelight?