It was a breezy night at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid when Sadio Mane and Mo Salah combine to give Liverpool a first minute lead in the opening seconds of the final before Belgium’s Divock Origi sealed Tottenham’s fate in the 87th minute.
The trio of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Joёl Matip became the second groupie of African players to lift the most coveted club football trophy since Ajax’s Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu in 1995. It is worth noting that in the past 18 years of the competition’s history only on four occasions have a single African not featured in the UEFA Champions League final.
Saturday’s clash between European super giants and 13-time winner Real Madrid squares up against Carabao and FA Cup winners Liverpool, will see a total of eight African and players of African descent battle for glory in Stade de France.
For Liverpool, the usual culprits shall be the Premier League’s 2022 season’s joint top scorer and highest assist maker Mohammed Salah; Ballon d’or nominee hopeful and talisman of African Champions Sadio Mané; former international Cameroonian defender Joёl Matip, and Guinea national team captain Naby Keïta.
However, the biggest surprise but certainly not a newbie on big stage would be France’s Karim Benzema who was born to Algerian parents, current the top scorer of this campaign with 15 goals and also a potential winner of the FIFA Best Footballer of the year award. Benzema has come in clutch for Real Madrid this season scoring back-to-back hattricks in the run up to the final. Karim’s 27 goals and 12 assists helped Madrid clinch their 35th LaLiga title. Benzema has steered the heart of the Ronaldo-less Real Madrid and would be having his sight set on Saturday’s biggest prize.
Austrian captain and serial winner David Alaba will be in the heart of Real Madrid’s defence, Alaba, who was born to a Nigerian father, has won the Champions League twice with former club Bayern Munich, where he enjoyed a decade of dominance winning 10 Bundesliga titles before joining Real Madrid on a free transfer.
The most exciting is Madrid’s attacking fullback Ferland Mendy who is the cousin of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, an international teammate to Sadio Mane and ply his trade in London with Chelsea. Mendy who is a two-time LaLiga champion with Real Madrid hoping to win his first major continental trophy.
Wunderkind Eduardo Camavinga, the ideal “Segundo Volante” and heir to the throne soon to be vacated by Luka Modric, is now one of the finest U-21 players in the world. The Wonderkid, who was born in a refugee camp in Cabinda, Angola, to Congolese parents, is poised to be a great player, having already represented France three times and scoring a goal. By winning the UEFA Champions League, Camvinga would be following in the footsteps of great players.
The match in Paris will be a spectacle, with Mo Salah hoping for vengeance against Real Madrid after losing to them a few years ago. Without a question, both teams’ engine rooms are fueled by the African nation’s strength, which has once again cemented its legacy on the world stage.