I’ll admit to not spending a lot of energy on international football outside the World Cup. I might keep half an eye on the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Euros and Copa America don’t hold my interest. The AFCON (African Cup of Nations) never would have crossed my mind if it didn’t take away Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane (now just Mo) from Liverpool during the Premier League season every other year.
So I’ve often been a bit annoyed by the AFCON. I’d sweat over the details of who Liverpool would play when Mo and Sadio were gone. Many including myself wished the tournament would be in the summer like some of its international counterparts. Most of all, I begged for our strikers to be back in Merseyside as soon as humanly possible. I was thrilled when the 2019 edition was moved to the UEFA offseason and bummed when it returned to winter in 2022.
However, with Mo again leading Egypt in the continental showcase, I’m trying to change my ways.
An AFCON-fidence Boost
Two years ago, Salah and Mane missed the maximum time for their club as both Egypt and Senegal made the final. Yet, Liverpool still finished the season with two trophies and it took a Thibaut Courtois performance for the ages and three goals in six minutes by City to keep it from being four pieces of silverware.
More importantly, that final put on display how much the tournament means to those who play in it. Mane’s pure joy at winning Senegal’s first AFCON title, and with it World Cup qualification, was wonderful to watch. Watching him play for the Reds ever since his 2016 move from Southampton brought me joy. His extensive philanthropy in his home nation made those sentiments only grow. It would have taken a heart of stone to not share his joy.
On the other side of that match, Mo’s pain was a poignant demonstration of how important AFCON is to him. He’s proud to be Egyptian and his nation’s captain.
This Means Mo-re
Salah was devastated to miss most of the 2018 World Cup due to injury. He knows how much African representation on the world stage means, especially for Egypt. To lose this final on penalties and miss out on the 2022 edition was heartbreaking for him. Seeing his Liverpool teammate take time from his own moment of triumph to console him was a deeply moving human moment.
So as Egypt looks for a record 8th AFCON title in the next month, I’m trying to embrace the competition. I’ll still be ecstatic when Mo is back. But in the meantime, I want him and his countrymen to do well. Mo doesn’t need to come back to Liverpool as soon as possible. Here’s hoping he stays in the Ivory Coast until the final and comes home with the trophy!