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African stars in focus at UCL final

Several African players will have an opportunity to write their names in gold on Saturday, when EPL runners-up Liverpool FC square up with third-place Tottenham Hotspur in an all-English final of the UEFA Champions League (UCL).

The match, the climax of the 2018-2019 version of the world’s most prestigious club soccer competition,  is billed for Atletico Madrid’s 67,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

On either side will be on display Africa’s biggest soccer exports.

Liverpool boast of the trio of Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Senegal international Sadio Mane and Cameroon’s Joel Matip, who are expected to lead the charge for what will be the Reds’ sixth victory in the competition and the second since it was renamed the UEFA Champions League.

Mane and Salah, who netted twenty-two Premier League goals each, form two-thirds of Liverpool’s dreaded front three, while Matip has been an integral part of the team’s much vaunted central defensive partnership alongside Dutchman Virgio van Dyjk.

Salah will hope to banish the disappointment of last year’s final against Real Madrid, when he suffered a debilitating shoulder injury early in the game. The injury clearly affected his performance at the Russia-2018 World Cup with the Pharaohs.

The Egyptian goal maestro has scored only four times in eleven UCL appearances this season.

Mane, the irreppresible Senegalese goal machine, was impressive in the Premier League. The twenty-seven-year old has played twelve Champions League games, scoring four goals.

As for Matip, who has risen from a fringe  team-member  to a regular player, his defensive partnership conceded the least number of goals in the Premier League. He is almost certain to start the final come Saturday evening.

On Spurs’ side will be Ivory Coast’s Serge Aurier and Kenya international Victor Wanyama, both of whom have not featured regularly in the Champions League this season.

Aurier, a vastly experienced right-back, has played only five Champions League games, while Wanyama, a defensive midfielder, has been on the pitch for only 292 minutes, although he will likely get a game on Saturday as he will be expected to keep Mane and Salah in check.

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