Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 September 2019

Sadio Mane set for heavyweight showdown with Riyad Mahrez at 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

Mane back from suspension for Senegal while Mahrez is already off the mark in Group C after scoring in Algeria's win over Kenya

Senegal's forward Sadio Mane takes part in a training session at the 30 June Stadium, in Cairo, on June 22, 2019, on the eve of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) football match between Senegal and Tanzania. / AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED
Senegal's forward Sadio Mane takes part in a training session at the 30 June Stadium, in Cairo, on June 22, 2019, on the eve of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) football match between Senegal and Tanzania. / AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED

Aliou Cisse says Senegal have no special plans to keep Algeria star Riyad Mahrez under wraps, as the manager gets ready to welcome Sadio Mane back from suspension for their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations heavyweight clash.

Liverpool forward Mane sat out Sunday's 2-0 win over Tanzania as he served a one-match ban for accumulating two yellow cards during Cup of Nations qualifying.

Algeria also kicked off their Group C campaign in Egypt with an identical scoreline, with Manchester City winger Mahrez on target in the victory over Kenya in Cairo on Monday.

Though Mahrez's City would ultimately pip Mane's Liverpool to last season's Premier League title by the narrowest of margins, the Algerian winger has struggled to establish himself under Pep Guardiola since leaving Leicester City to become the Abu Dhabi-owned club's record signing last summer.

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Senegal kick off Afcon campaign with 2-0 win

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"There's no anti-Mahrez plan," Cisse told reporters at Wednesday's pre-match news conference. "Or similar for [Sofiane] Feghouli or [Yacine] Brahimi, they're all good players.

"We're approaching this match trying to take care of what we need to do. There's nothing definitive riding on this match because there's still another one after that against Kenya.

"It's an important match, we have three points but we're not qualified yet. To go far in this competition you need to win as many matches as possible."

Keita Balde stepped up as Senegal's main attacking threat in Mane's absence, scoring the opener against Tanzania, while fellow forward Mbaye Niang was guilty of missing a host of chances with his place in the side most under threat by Mane's return.

Being able to call on a player who scored 26 goals in a season Liverpool were crowned Uefa Champions League winners demonstrates the wealth of attacking options at Cisse's disposal as the former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder looks to lead Senegal to a first Cup of Nations title in their history.

"The return of Sadio Mane can give us a boost. He's one of our leaders and he's ready," said Cisse, who was part of the Senegal squad that finished runner-up at the 2002 Afcon.

"What does a team need to be African champions? If I had the recipe I think I'd keep it to myself.

"You need to be tough mentally and ready to suffer. It's not easy to play in Africa, you can do well in Europe but not find your bearings here.

"Being favourites in this competition doesn't mean much, if you look recently at Zambia or Cameroon two years ago for example, they weren't among the favourites."

Algeria counterpart Djamel Belmadi rejected any notion his team are overly reliant on Mahrez, who netted 13 goals in 41 appearances as City completed a clean sweep of English titles in 2018/19.

Algeria's Riyad Mahrez celebrates scoring their second goal against Kenya. Reuters
Algeria's Riyad Mahrez celebrates scoring their second goal against Kenya. Reuters

"I am not in favour of highlighting individuals over teams," said the former Manchester City midfielder Belmadi. "We must put less emphasis on Riyad.

"This comes from the journalists, even the players they don't have this feeling. Riyad Mahrez, we know he is very a good player in the team, he's one of them," Belmadi said of the 2016 African Footballer of the Year.

"I'm sure Mohamed Salah and Mane have the same feeling. This way of thinking comes from the journalists and maybe fans, but not us at all."

Algeria are perennial underachievers in their own continent despite being regular qualifiers for the World Cup, having lifted the Cup of Nations title only once.

Updated: June 28, 2019 05:10 AM

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