Senegal clinch first ever AFCON title

Senegal defeated Egypt in penalties of the African Cup of Nations final on Sunday to bring home their first ever AFCON title. The game turned to penalties to settle the match after both teams were in a deadlock after extra time.

Sadio Maneโ€™s Senegal overcame Mohamed Salah’s Egypt 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out at Stade d’Olembe in Cameroon. Player of the Tournament Mane redeemed himself after netting a penalty in the final shootout to seal the win. He had missed an early chance to take a lead in the 4th minute. After a thrilling conclusion of the 33rd edition of the biennial continental competition, The Teranga Lions emerged as the 15th different side to conquer the continent. The Senagalese side had suffered two previous final defeats in 2002 and 2019.

The title win was an act of poetic justice as the coach Aliou Cissรฉ was the captain of the losing side in 2002 AFCOn finals. The 2002 Senegal team is widely considered as the golden generation of Senagalese football- they defeated previous champions France in the 2002 World Cup Quarter Finals.

As Cisse pointed out earlier in the week, it’s impossible to discuss African football and the continent’s biggest sides without referring to Senegal, even though – unlike CAF’s other big dogs – they’d never previously got their hands on the AFCON title.

They’ve produced African Footballer of the Year winners, had players who have won the Premier League and the Champions League, and are one of only three African nations to have reached the World Cup quarterfinals, yet the AFCON crown had always eluded them before Sunday evening.

“I dedicate this [victory] to the people of Senegal,” Cisse told ESPN after the match. “From independence to now, we never had a star on our shirt … and now we have the first one.

“We deserved it, and when you consider the match in its entirety, and I never doubted.”

Before the showdown with Egypt, they were the only team in AFCON history to have reached two finals without ever having won one, and a third failure at the final hurdle would surely have represented a monumental mental obstacle for future generations to overcome.

Senegal erupted in celebration on Sunday night after its football team won the AFCON cup, giving the West African country its first tournament win after decades of heartbreaking near misses.

Cheers, car horns and fireworks filled the air of the seaside capital Dakar after a hard-won victory in a penalty shoot. Thousands took to the streets. People waved flags from the sunroofs of speeding cars. Onlookers hugged and cried. Dozens ran onto a beach in a northern suburb, screaming to the night sky.

These were rare scenes of collective rapture for Senegalese soccer fans who have seen their fair share of sporting heartache, and who in the last two years have suffered the restrictions and economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Senegal’s President Macky Sall declared Monday a public holiday to celebrate the national football team’s first ever African Cup of Nations crown following their victory against Egypt, public television announced.

The Lions will be decorated by Sall on Tuesday at the presidential palace in Dakar, RTS television said.

“The president of the republic declared Monday a public holiday, a paid day off, following the brilliant victory of the Lions,” RTS said, citing a presidential decree.

For Cisse, victory in Cameroon, and against Egypt, the most successful side in the competition’s history, makes triumph even sweeter, and fully confirms Senegal’s standing alongside the continent’s true giants.

“Cameroon is a land of football, so to win the AFCON here is symbolic,” the coach concluded. “To win against Egypt, who have seven titles, is also symbolic.

“I said to my players that today they would write history, by beating Africa’s most decorated team on Cameroonian soil.”

Senegal’s triumph won’t entirely eclipse the golden generation of 2002 — of Diao, Diouf, of Bouba Diop — for their pioneering performances, that victory over France, their character and vitality. But, history certainly has been written after the first AFCON title for Senegal. This win will be remembered by generations to come.