Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Edouard Mendy looking to write Africa's next FA Cup chapter

Never before have Africa's biggest football stars been as central to the sides contesting the FA Cup final.

European champions Chelsea and quadruple-chasing Liverpool will contest the 141st final of the FA Cup on Saturday, with each side leaning heavily on African talent as they look to win more silverware.

Chelsea's UEFA Champions League success last season was built upon Edouard Mendy, whose assurance behind the defence underpinned the Blues' triumph as he became the first African goalkeeper to win the tournament in its current guise.

He's recognised as the outstanding African goalkeeper, and few stoppers in the history of the continent's game have looked as comfortable as consistently at such a high level.

In the other corner, Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have established themselves as Africa's finest players in the world in recent years, walking in the footsteps of Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o as decisive individuals in one of the game's iconic teams.

Despite all they've achieved at Anfield -- winning the UEFA Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020, and leading the quadruple charge this term -- neither Mane nor Sala has won the FA Cup.

Nor has Mendy, nor any of the other Africans in contention to feature on Saturday: Naby Keita, Joel Matip, Ibrahima Konate and Hakim Ziyech.

Senegal teammates Mendy and Mane, in particular, are eyeing history, as they seek to follow in the footsteps of Riyad Mahrez (2019) and Lauren (2002) to win the Africa Cup of Nations and the FA Cup in the same year.

They, and Salah, will also be harbouring ambitions to make their mark in the Ballon d'Or voting this year, while the outcome of Saturday's final -- and any potential match-winning performances -- could also have an influence in the African Footballer of the Year voting.

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As we approach the season's conclusion, Mane is establishing himself as Africa's top player, with his and Salah's seasons pivoting at the AFCON in Cameroon.

The Senegal forward made just one goal contribution in 10 matches before the Nations Cup, while Salah produced some of the best form of his career during the latter months of 2021.

Salah made 31 goal contributions in 23 matches across all competitions for the Reds between mid-August and mid-December, including unforgettable efforts against Manchester City and Watford in consecutive fixtures in October. Yet his contributions have been more subtle and less decisive since the dual disappointment of missing out on the Nations Cup final and the World Cup -- both defeats at the hands of Mane's Senegal.

The FA Cup final will be Salah's 23rd Liverpool fixture since that AFCON final defeat, and he's scored seven goals and registered six assists, with just two strikes, in the past two months.

The Egyptian nevertheless believes his output on the field is testament to his enduring quality.

"If you compare me with any player in my position, not only in my team but in the world, you will find that I am the best," Salah told beIN Sports earlier this week. "I always focus on my work and do my best and my numbers are the best proof of my words. I like to always create a new challenge for me, to work in a different way and to make a difference and that is my duty."

Salah may still lead the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, but his influence in the final third has faded -- Liverpool are undoubtedly less reliant upon him due to the acquisition of Luis Diaz -- while Mane has grown in stature.

We've known for several years -- at least since the 2018-19 Champions League run -- that Mane is the man for the big occasion, yet he's reaffirming these big-game attributes emphatically in 2022.

Mane scored or assisted in each knockout game and then scored the decisive penalty in the Nations Cup shootout victory over Egypt, and he's made significant contributions in almost all of Liverpool's toughest fixtures since the start of April.

There was Liverpool's second goal in the Champions League victory against Benfica in Lisbon; the equaliser in the 2-2 Premier League draw at Manchester City; a double -- including the winner -- in the FA Cup victory over Pep Guardiola's side; a goal and an assist in the league rout of Manchester United; and strikes in both legs of the Champions League semifinal success over Villarreal.

On Tuesday, with Liverpool enjoying 60% of possession at Aston Villa but struggling to break the Midlanders down, it was Mane who made space for himself with excellent movement off the ball and then powered a header beyond Emiliano Martinez to give the Reds another three points and keep the pressure on City at the top of the table.

"He's a machine," Jurgen Klopp said of Mane after the Villa win. "I told him after the game [that] he's a massive, massive player. His physicality is brutal, and this mix of technique, desire and then physicality -- in the moment when everybody obviously has a few yards in the legs you can see it with him, to be honest. Top goal, a fantastic world-class player."

Heading into the FA Cup final, Mane not Salah appears most likely to emerge as the match-winner, with the Senegal superstar maintaining his momentum at the ideal time of the campaign.

Their respective ongoing contract sagas rumble on, with the pair entering the final year of their deals on Merseyside, yet it's Mane who's appearing indispensable -- even to this most accomplished side -- as Liverpool go in hunt of an unprecedented quadruple.

Liverpool's other African stars have each proved they can weigh in with the big contributions in the tightest fixtures as well: Keita netted the only goal of the game away at Newcastle United; Matip equalised against Villa; and Konate opened the scoring against Besiktas in the Champions League (twice), and City in the FA Cup success.

Klopp knows he has potential match-winners across the side, with Liverpool's African stars more than holding their own in this department.

And they're walking in some sizeable footprints, with some of Africa's all-time greats making their mark in the FA Cup.

South Africa-born Bill Perry was the first, netting the winner in Blackpool's 4-3 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the 'Matthews Final' of 1953, before Bruce Grobbelaar of Zimbabwe and Liverpool won the first of his three FA Cups 33 years later.

Daniel Amokachi was the first Black African player to lift the cup, when Everton defeated Manchester United in 1995, although the Nigeria great made his chief contribution when he netted twice in the semifinal victory over Tottenham Hotspur after substituting himself into the match.

George Weah, the only African to win the Ballon d'Or, was a champion during his brief cameo at Chelsea in 2000, while his compatriot Christopher Wreh was a double-winner with Arsenal -- and Liberia's first champion -- in 1998.

Africa's contribution to the showpiece fixture has intensified in the past 20 years, with only the 2015 final not involving a player from the continent in the matchday squads.

Lauren won the FA Cup three times during his decorated spell with Arsenal, but that haul was eclipsed by Didier Drogba, who won four times and scored in four separate finals, a record in the competition's history.

Alongside Drogba, African legends such as Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou won the cup with Chelsea, while Yaya Toure, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sulley Muntari, Nwankwo Kanu and Mahrez each embellished their reputations in the English game with star turns -- and victories -- in the final.

Mane and Salah have never before featured in the fixture, while Mendy and Ziyech -- defeated finalists last year -- will be desperate to end a troubled few months for Chelsea with silverware.

African players have left an immense legacy in the FA Cup final, but who will write the next chapter in Saturday's showdown?