Senegal dispatched Egypt on penalties in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations remaining on Sunday to convey to an exciting conclusion the thirty third version of the biennial continental competitors as the Teranga Lions clinched their first-ever African title.
Participant of the Match Sadio Mane was the hero as he overcame a fourth-minute penalty miss to web the decisive spot kick within the shootout following a 0-0 draw by which the West Africans had had the higher of the probabilities.
In victory, the Teranga Lions turn into the fifteenth completely different facet to beat the continent, lastly drawing a line underneath 20 years of remorse for the reason that nation’s best facet — the workforce that reached the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal — fell simply quick towards Cameroon within the AFCON remaining earlier that yr.
Then, like now, the competition was selected penalties, though whereas it was Aliou Cisse who missed the decisive spot kick within the remaining shootout in Bamako 20 years in the past, right here he was the maybe the happiest man within the Stade d’Olembe, having made historical past as Senegal’s first AFCON-winning head coach.
It is actually effectively overdue for a person who is aware of triumph and catastrophe — these two most fickle of imposters — extra intimately than he would certainly like.
As Cisse identified earlier within the week, it is unattainable to debate African soccer and the continent’s greatest sides with out referring to Senegal, despite the fact that — not like CAF’s different massive canines — they’d by no means beforehand obtained their palms on the AFCON title.
They’ve produced African Footballer of the 12 months winners, had gamers who’ve received the Premier League and the Champions League, and are certainly one of solely three African nations to have reached the World Cup quarterfinals, but the AFCON crown had at all times eluded them earlier than Sunday night.
“I dedicate this [victory] to the individuals of Senegal,” Cisse informed ESPN after the match. “From independence to now, we by no means had a star on our shirt … and now we’ve got the primary one.
“We deserved it, and when you think about the match in its entirety, and I by no means doubted.”
Earlier than the showdown with Egypt, they had been the one workforce in AFCON historical past to have reached two finals with out ever having received one, and a 3rd failure on the remaining hurdle would certainly have represented a monumental psychological impediment for future generations to beat.
As a substitute, Sunday’s success was the fruit of the immense and constant work of Cisse and his employees within the near-seven years since they took the helm of the Lions, then languishing outdoors the highest 60 within the FIFA world rankings.
Again in 2015, the glories of 2002 had lagged approach into the slipstream, however since then, the ex-Birmingham Metropolis and Portsmouth midfielder has dragged Senegal to the world’s prime 20, taken them again to the World Cup (in 2018) and helped them to consecutive Nations Cup finals — the primary workforce since Egypt in 2010 to make back-to-back remaining appearances.
But regardless of his assurances of confidence and dependable perception in his workforce’s eventual success within the build-up to Sunday’s match, his outpourings of emotion on the remaining whistle — the place he appeared overcome as he was held by 2002 teammate Khalilou Fadiga — urged that he might solely really lay the ghosts of previous failure to relaxation when he lastly obtained his palms on the trophy.
“We all know our days of failure, our tears, our difficult moments,” he informed ESPN earlier within the event, remembering each his personal missed spot kick within the 2002 remaining, and the 2019 workforce’s defeat by Algeria in Cairo two and a half years in the past.
“The 2 finals had been very completely different conferences,” he stated after Sunday’s victory. “In 2019, I hadn’t even sat down and we would conceded. The scenario modified and we had been chasing the rating.
“Right here, it was completely different in each sense. I knew we’d win, whether or not in 90 minutes, or in additional time, or on penalties.
“The essential factor was to win, and I by no means doubted it. I had religion, and the workforce persevered and stored battling.”
In the course of the course of this event, nevertheless, Senegal went from nice pretenders to real contenders, blossoming after a stodgy group-stage displaying to web eight targets of their three knockout matches earlier than Sunday.
Their marketing campaign has had its ups and downs; they failed to interrupt down a restricted Zimbabwe facet of their opening recreation — earlier than Mane’s 97th-minute penalty — and had been held 0-0 by a Malawi workforce ranked 129th on the planet earlier than the event.
In opposition to Cape Verde within the final 16, Mane suffered a head harm after clashing with goalkeeper Vozinha, whereas their beforehand impenetrable defence was breached by each Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso within the quarterfinals and semis respectively.
But that defence, who did not concede for the opening 417 minutes of the event, has offered the platform upon which Senegal started to appear to be champion materials.
The arrival of Ismaila Sarr from Watford forward of the quarters has additionally been a lift, with the winger contributing a aim and an help in his first two cameos off the bench, earlier than claiming an unlikely beginning berth for the ultimate towards the Pharaohs.
Defensive solidity and direct widemen have been hallmarks of Cisse’s tenure with the nationwide facet, however latest additions of France-born trio Abdou Diallo, Bouna Sarr and Nampalys Mendy — all of whom made their debut in 2021 — have raised the standard of the beginning XI and imbued the workforce with larger prime finish expertise.
They’ve helped Senegal not solely return to the Nations Cup remaining, however to take that remaining step — one additional than any Teranga Lions workforce has managed up to now — and eventually banish the West Africans’ perennial bridesmaids tag.
For Cisse, victory in Cameroon, and towards Egypt, essentially the most profitable facet within the competitors’s historical past, makes triumph even sweeter, and absolutely confirms Senegal’s standing alongside the continent’s true giants.
“Cameroon is a land of soccer, so to win the AFCON right here is symbolic,” the coach concluded. “To win towards Egypt, who’ve seven titles, can be symbolic.
“I stated to my gamers that at the moment they’d write historical past, by beating Africa’s most adorned workforce on Cameroonian soil.”
Historical past actually has been written, and whereas Senegal’s triumph will not completely eclipse the technology of 2002 — of Diao, Diouf, of Bouba Diop — for his or her pioneering performances, that victory over France, their character and vitality, they’ve actually given their nation the type of success story that makes up for 20 years of remorse and yesteryear’s days of failure.