Egypt and Senegal will face off in a month’s time in the third round playoff of the CAF FIFA World Cup qualifiers in a rematch of the 2021 African Cup of Nations final.
Egypt goalkeeper, Mohamed Abou Gabal “Gabaski” warned the Teranga Lions that the heartbreak that his Pharaohs suffered at the AFCON final will be meted out to them in the World Cup qualifier games when both countries clash again later in March.
The Pharaohs were beaten 4-2 on penalties after a goalless draw in the 120 minutes of a final which saw Gabaski come up clutch for Egypt on eight different occasions. His performance in the final for the record winners of the AFCON title was nothing short of sensational as the home-based goalkeeper proved he could hold his own against Senegal’s Edouard Mendy who won the FIFA Best Goalkeeper award in the course of the tournament.
Gabaski kept the scoreline at 0-0 for the game by first saving a Sadio Mane penalty and also came up clutch in the penalty shootout by saving a penalty just after Egypt hit the crossbar. Unfortunately his teammates were unable to capitalise as the reigning best goalkeeper in the world, Mendy, followed up with his own excellent penalty stop to set up a thrilling finish.
Mane stepped up to redeem himself from his earlier penalty miss and blasted one past Gabaski to hand Senegal their first ever AFCON title after three final appearances.
The Zamalek goalkeeper, visibly distraught after the game, was handed the man of the match award for his efforts and took the opportunity to warn Senegal ahead of their upcoming World Cup qualifiers games.
”It’s well known that we, Egypt, do not just take a fall,” Gabaski told GOAL. “When we fall, we get up, even though the fact we’ve lost today makes us feel like we’re in a difficult and delicate situation.
“We have other challenges ahead of us next month, with the same teams involved, and if it’s God’s will, we will continue and pursue our objectives.
“We have several more matches coming up in the coming months, and we have to win.”
Many fans have expressed their displeasure over CAF’s choice to award the tournament’s best goalkeeper award to Senegal’s Mendy after the heroics of Mohamd Abou Gabal throughout the tournament.
The goalkeeper was on top forma again but came out second best in the penalty shootout that handed Senegal the trophy, but his preparations for the shootout have made even more headlines than Egypt’s actual loss.
Before facing each Senegal spot kick, the goalkeeper was seen picking up a water bottle to seemingly drink from it. However, it was revealed after the match by African football reporter Saddick Adams that the bottle was covered in notes about each of Senegal’s penalty takers.
He dived the correct way for all but one of Senegal’s penalty kicks according to the instructions on the bottle, saving one and coming close to saving the other four.
Senegal sent up Bamba Dieng, the only name omitted from his bottle, for the fourth spot kick and he sent Gabaski the wrong way.
Gabaski was distraught after coming so close and African fans sympathised with the goalkeeper who won the world over with his incredible passion and amazing performances.
His sentiments over the rematch in March were echoed by the stand-in manager for the Egyptian side on the night, Siyaa El-Sayed, who led the team onto the pitch as manager Carlos Queiroz was forced to watch from the stands after being red-carded in the semi finals.
“This Egypt team have a bright future, and although we were determined to go right to the end, this [tournament] is still some kind of success for us.
“We’ll continue going until we secure World Cup qualification. We want to thank God that Egypt have a strong team in place, that the country are proud of them, and the next steps will be better for us.”
Elsewhere, Ghana and Nigeria legends, Asamoah Gyan and Austine Jay Jay Okocha, slammed Senegal hero Sadio Mane for a rookie mistake which led to Abou Gabal saving his fourth minute penalty and the chance to give the Teranga Lions the lead in the final.
Mane stepped up to take the penalty after the Senegalese right back was brought down by the Egyptian left back, and Mohamed Salah went to give some advice on Mane’s penalty kick prowess to his goalkeeper Gabaski.
As both teammates talked to each other, Mane, who is Salah’s strike partner at Liverpool, butted in on their talks, reportedly telling the goalkeeper where he would place the penalty in a show of confidence.
That decision did not pay off as Gabaski saved Mane’s penalty to keep the scores at 0-0. Okocha and Gyan had tough words for the Senegal forward following the incident.
Speaking in his AfCON punditry debut, Gyan said, “I think psychologically that didn’t help him [Mane] because Salah went to his goalkeeper definitely and was telling him, ‘I know where he places his penalty’.
“And he was far away, he shouldn’t have come there telling the goalkeeper ‘I’m putting it there.’ By doing that he put himself in doubt psychologically and I think there was the situation. Mind you that the goalkeeper of Egypt has been so good with penalty shootout. He did what he had to do to save his team.”
Okocha added, “You don’t get involved when it comes to situations like that.
“You stay focused and choose your side, choose your target. I don’t know why he got involved there. It was obvious that he was nervous.”
Mane, however, redeemed himself and won the title for his country with the winning spot kick, and has received congratulations from fans and former teammates all across the world.