When it looked like 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finalist Senegal were drawing their first of the 2021 edition against Zimbabwe, Sadio Mane saved the day with a penalty in added time.
It was Pape Gueye’s shot that hit Kelvin Madzongwe’s arm in the box before Mario Escobar awarded the penalty, then consulted with the Video Assistant Referee who agreed.
That was deep in the 97th, Mane stepped up and made no mistake from 12 yards in a game they had 17 players available and not the required 28.
First choice goalkeeper Eduard Mendy and reliable defender Kalidou Koulibaly are among the 11 who tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the competition.
But even with notable absentees, one would expect Senegal to impose themselves and ask Zimbabwe endless questions. It wasn’t the case as the Southern African nation proved to be up for the challenge.
Mane was the player to watch and he made sure his colleagues were involved, creating chances for Keita Baldé and Bouna Sarr, but neither could find the target.
Senegal would have actually gotten into the lead as early as the first minute of the game but Sarr’s drive flashed wide.
Mane himself had a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock when the stand in goalkeeper Seny Dieng cleared a long ball for the Liverpool striker to pounce on, he did the needful before striking the ball straight into Petros Mhari’s hands.
Even Pape Abou Cissé should have given the West Africans the lead but he decided to nod his header off a corner with Mhari in the Zimbabwe goal clues. Abdou Diallo could also look on when his header missed the target with 20 minutes left.
The win though will give Senegal some breathing space heading into their second game of the competition against Guinea on January 14th, Zimbabwe play Malawi on the same day.
How both teams lined up
Senegal: Seny Dieng (GK), Pape Cisse, Gana Gueye ©, Cheikhou Kouyate, Boulaye Dia, Sadio Mane, Fode Ballo, Bouna Sarr, Ibrahima Mbaye, Abdou Diallo
Zimbabwe: Petros Mahri (GK), Kelvin Madzongwe, John Takwara, Ishmael Wadi, Leroy J Benyu, Bruce Kangwa, Onismor Bhasera, Teenage Lingane, Knowledge Musona ©, Prince Mpumelelo, Gilroy