A dramatic late penalty from Sadio Mane gave Senegal a 1-0 smash-and-grab victory over Zimbabwe on Monday at the Kouekong Stadium.
Aliou Cisse’s Senegal, who are the highest ranked FIFA nation in the competition, came into the clash without two of their star players due to positive Covid tests, as Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly were ruled out.
Their absences did not seem to have much of an effect, however, as the Lions of Teranga created many chances, but were not able to capitalise.
Senegal almost took the lead within a minute, as Bouna Sarr’s low long-range effort was just wide of the near post.
Sadio Mane had the best chance of the first half, making a 30-yard dribble on the far-side touchline, then rounding a Zimbabwe defender, but his shot was tame and it was straight at Petros Mhari.
In the second half, Abdou Diallo came close to scoring for his side, as the centre-back headed wide from a corner just as Mhari surged forward from his line.
A point was snatched from Zimbabwe right at the very end, when Mane calmly dispatched a dramatic late penalty after Kelvin Madzongwe handled the ball in the box.
Senegal's forward Sadio Mane (L) shoots and fails to score as Zimbabwe's goalkeeper Petros Mhari (R) prepares to make a save during the Group B Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Senegal and Zimbabwe at Stade de Kouekong in Bafoussam
Image credit: Getty Images
TALKING POINT - Last minute penalty drama
Drama and the African Cup of Nations come hand-in-hand, and there was no difference this time. Zimbabwe, who are ranked more than a hundred places below Senegal in the FIFA rankings, thought they were seconds away from securing a vital point in Group B, but a handball from Madzongwe in the box was punished immediately by the referee.
It looked a harsh call, as the ball was touched with a raised arm with no intentions behind it. However, in this day and age, those decisions are often given.
Less that a minute later there was heartbreak on the Zimbabwe bench as Mane placed his penalty beyond Mhari to seal a proper smash-and-grab victory for Senegal in the most dramatic circumstances.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH - Sadio Mane
Senegal's star man proved to be the match winner for his country, scoring the winning penalty with seconds left to play. The Liverpool forward was calmness personified in the key moment.
Mane also proved to be one of Senegal's main attacking threats despite chances not being taken by both himself and his teammates.
The 29-year-old registered two shots on target, four successful dribbles and five key passes and asserted his dominance on the game.
Senegal: Dieng 7, Mbaye 6, Cisse 8, A, Diallo 7, Ballo-Toure 7, I. Gueye 7, Kouyate 6, Sarr 7, Balde 6, Dia 6, Mane 8. Subs: H. Diallo 6, P. Gueye 6.
1’ - GOOD EFFORT! - Early on, Senegal are on the attack! Sarr lets fly from 25-yards out and his low driven shot narrowly misses the bottom corner and goes wide of the post!
23’ - CHANCE FOR MANE! The winger does extremely well on the far-side touchline to keep the ball in. He then dribbles around 30-yards with the ball out on the left, before leaving two Zimbabwe defenders for dead on the outside to create a clear opportunity for himself in the box, but the finish isn't clean and the shot goes straight at Mhari.
47’ - CHANCE! Senegal have a corner - it is delivered to the far post, aimed for Cisse. The centre-back has a free header as the Zimbabwe goalkeeper is stranded after coming off his line to punch and missing it, but Cisse heads it wide!
68’ - OVER! - A delivery comes in from Sarr from the left edge of the box, and Abdou Diallo jumps highest to head it, but he doesn't have control of it and it goes over the bar.
90+4’ - PENALTY! - Senegal have a last-gasp penalty! Drama! In the last minute of the game, the referee points to the spot after a handball in the box by Madzongwe.
Sadio Mane's winner for Senegal vs. Zimbabwe was the latest match-winning goal (and latest overall) in normal time of an AFCON tournament since Bruno Zita Mbanangoye's goal (96:55) to win the game for Gabon vs. Morocco in 2012 (3-2).