UCL Final: Mahrez and Onana looking to add their names to illustrious African history

The UEFA Champions League final will grab all the headlines when Manchester City and Inter Milan lock horns at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul on Saturday.

It’s a final that is of importance for both teams with the Citizens looking for their first-ever premier European title having reached the final in 2021 but lost to Chelsea in Porto. They will also be looking to complete the treble after winning the Premier League and FA Cup, potentially matching the record set by rivals Manchester United 24 years ago.

For the Nerazzurri, they will be gunning for a fourth European title and first since 2010 when they also won the treble under current AS Roma manager Jose Mourinho.

The game will be centred on big names such as Erling Haaland and Lautaro Martinez who are the leading marksman for City and Inter this season with an astonishing 80 competitive goals between them, though the former shares the bulk of it with 52 strikes. One however cannot shy away from the Africans that will take centre stage in Istanbul: Riyad Mahrez for Man City and Andre Onana for Inter Milan.

Both players are no strangers in the Champions League with Mahrez playing in the side that lost to Chelsea in Porto two years ago while Onana was part of the famous Ajax team that reached the semi-finals in 2019 but lost out on away goals to Tottenham Hotspur. The Dutch team are widely remembered for knocking out Real Madrid and Juventus that season.

Mahrez has been a regular figure for City in the Champions League this season, playing nine times, having a hand in five goals (three goals, two assists). The Algeria international has been an unused substitute since the quarter-finals against RB Leipzig and regardless of that, Mahrez is a player known to score important goals when it matters and he just might not do that on Saturday night if given the opportunity to play and depending on the direction the game goes.

Onana meanwhile has been ever-present for Inter this season, playing in every game, and keeping eight clean sheets in 12 games, the most any goalkeeper. That is a very impressive feat for the Cameroonian shot-stopper who was signed from a free transfer from Ajax last summer. It is also a phenomenal turnaround for Onana considering he was banned for 12 months after testing positive for the doping substance, Furosemide while at Ajax. Winning the Champions League will also be a plus for Onana after he was dismissed from the Cameroon national team during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar after a fallout with coach Rigobert Song. Onana has since retired from international football but if he can continue to succeed at Inter, Song and the Cameroon Football Federation led by country icon Samuel Eto’o could have no choice other than to bury the hatchet on whatever dispute they have with Onana.

Above all, Mahrez or Onana will be writing their names in the African football history books for whichever of their side wins the Champions League. There are 26 African players that have lifted the UEFA Champions League. Zimbabwean goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was the first to win it in 1984 while Senegal’s Eduard Mendy and Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech are the latest players to win with Chelsea in 2021.

Also on the illustrious list are players such as Abedi Pele, Nwankwo Kanu, Eto’o, John Obi Mikel, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane among others.

Mahrez and Onana joining this list of great legends will not only raise their stock even further but would once again make the African continent the centre of attention for the enormous talent it has and the integral part they are playing in evolving football to the highest level in Europe, and what better stage to show that than the UEFA Champions League final.

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