By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The Teranga Lions of Senegal have finally claimed on top of the mountain that before this year seemed near but so far. The team had reached two AFCON finals but failed to win the coveted prize.
And against Egypt this Sunday, February 6, 2022, at the Olembe Stadium for the final of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, the country would not make the error they did back in 2019, going on to win their first AFCON title, albeit through penalty shootouts.
Egypt has been the king of post-match penalty shootouts (Cameroon can attest to that at the semi-final) and the country was looking to send the game to that. With nothing to separate Senegal and Egypt at full time and even additional time, it was penalties that will crown the competition (the same scenario back in 2010 where Egypt won their last AFCON title).
Gabaski had saved Sadio Mane’s penalty kick at the 7th minute during regular time and the player opted not to be amongst the first to take Senegal’s penalty kicks. Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was on hand to save a penalty from Mohanad Lesheen which gave a chance for Mane to seal it. When it was his turn, he had a powerful shot that Gabaski could not keep out. The Egyptian goalkeeper guessed correctly but the power was just too much for him to handle.
“It just shows that if you work hard, if you persevere, you will get what you want,” Coach Aliou Cisse said after the game as quoted by BBC Sports Africa. “I am very emotional because the people of Senegal have wanted this trophy for 60 years.”
“Today (February 6) I think we deserved to win this title. This team is magnificent. It was a tough game, a tough tournament. We made it win our team, our power, our goalkeeper who is the best in the world and we won the title. We are very happy,” Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly said after the game.
Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy said: “I am super proud. For me and the (penalty) shooters, they did well. I did my best and I am super happy.”
Heading into the competition, it had been billed as the battle between two of Liverpool strikers in Mane and Salah, but this time it would be Mane who smiled at the expense of his teammate at club level. The Senegalese, however, showed his class at the end of the game quickly going on to console his Liverpool strike partner, a gesture that has been greatly appreciated by the football community.
“Mane hit that penalty without any doubt that he would score, which is incredible with the pressure he was under,” Jermaine Jenas told BBC Three. “You can see Mane is a leader. We know he is a top, top footballer, but the growth in the player over the years was very visible today (February 6) in the biggest moment of his life.”
After a beautiful competition, at times playing even with the injury, Liverpool striker Sadio Mane was named as the Best player of the competition. He certainly deserves all the accolades that come his way and the joy at the end of the tournament showed that.
The victory for Senegal gives the side one ahead of rival Egypt and the latter will be set for revenge in a month during the last round of the Qatar FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Both Senegal and Egypt will meet each other again and one of them will not be participating in the World Cup. Would it be Egypt or Senegal? Only time will tell but for now, Senegal will celebrate at think about Egypt later.