Why didn't Mohamed Salah take a penalty in Afcon 2021 final? Penalty shootout tactics & more explained

Mohamed SalahGetty

Penalty shootouts can make for the most nerve-wracking occasions in knockout competitions, especially when played to determine a winner for a major final.

Senegal were crowned 2021 Afcon champions after a victorious penalty shootout over Egypt, winning 4-2. Mohamed Salah, though on the pitch, noticeably did not take a penalty for Egypt.

So why didn't Salah take a penalty? GOAL takes a look.

Why didn't Mohamed Salah take a penalty in Afcon 2021 final?

Salah did not take a penalty in the Afcon 2021 final shootout against Senegal because he was appointed as the fifth penalty-taker.

Because Egypt missed their second and fourth penalties, Senegal's fifth penalty – taken by Sadio Mane – would be the decider, since Senegal won the coin toss prior to the shootout.

This shootout was determined by a "best of five" situation. Mane scored the fifth penalty, which led to Senegal winning the shootout 4-2.

There was no need for Salah to take the penalty, because even if he had scored, Senegal would still have won 4-3.

“That is why your best penalty taker should never go fifth,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher wrote on Twitter. “Salah not taking a penalty for Egypt in a shootout in a final is madness.”

Why do teams have their best player take the fifth penalty in shootouts?

In a penalty shootout, each team has five shots, and the team that makes more successful kicks is declared the victor.

The fifth penalty is usually seen as the most important one, as it can be the most decisive. If the scores are even by the fifth round, and then the opposition team misses their fifth penalty, then the other team can win the shootout by scoring in a 5-4 win.

Because the fifth penalties can be the deciding factor, there is an intense amount of pressure that comes along with scoring it. This is why a team's best player – or go-to penalty-taker – is often saved for this occasion, instead of being scheduled to score early on in the shootout. They would ideally be the most equipped, mentally, to take on such a task, with the best chance of success.

Of course, this tactic can backfire, especially if a team doesn't even end up making it to the fifth round due to penalties being missed.

This is what happened in the Afcon 2021 as Salah was saved to take the fifth penalty – a penalty Egypt never got to take – due to Senegal winning the shootout 4-2 after five rounds.

It would therefore make more sense to have your most-trusted penalty-taker to be first or second in the shooting order, in order to have a better chance of establishing an early lead.

Although, of course, this tactic worked in favour of Senegal, who saved their star striker Mane as their fifth penalty-taker; his penalty was the decisive one.

There is also the potential psychological threat of what it means for the opposition team to be saving their best player for last, therefore instilling an element of anxiety; but, again, this is all dependent on scenario.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard and other examples

There have been several instances in high-profile competitions when a team's supposed best player – chosen to take the fifth penalty – didn't get the chance to do take a spot-kick, due to the shootout results already being decided.

Steven Gerrard, who captained Liverpool during the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan and was the catalyst for their incredible 3-3 comeback, did not partake in the penalty shootout because he was supposed to be the fifth penalty taker.

Liverpool didn't end up needing their five rounds, as they won the shootout 3-2 after Andriy Shevchenko missed AC Milan's fifth penalty; by then, AC Milan had missed three penalties, which allowed Liverpool to win.

Liverpool's is a lucky example, but teams like Portugal didn't benefit from such fortune.

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Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to be Portugal's fifth penalty-taker during their Euro 2012 semi-final against Spain, which they ended up losing 4-2 on penalties.

Portugal missed their first and fourth penalties, which allowed Spain to win the shootout by the fifth penalty.

Further reading