Passionate cheers, swelling pride, and a win at last for Senegal during the Africa Cup of Nations 2021 final on Sunday, February 6, 2022. The Senegalese Lions of Teranga’s first-ever win against the Pharaohs of Egypt was the buzzing topic all over the continent as the much anticipated African football tournament came to an end.
The Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) is an all-male, inter-African football championship that has been held every two years since 1957, across the African continent. The official 2021 tournament was held in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital city, a year later due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with twenty-four teams participating.
The Egyptian Pharaohs have been the most successful team in the tournament’s history, with seven previous tournament titles. The team was led by coach Carlos Queiroz and had several renowned players on their team, like Mohamed Salah (Liverpool FC) and Mahmoud Trezeguet (Aston Villa).
On that same note, the Senegalese Lions of Teranga have previously made it to the finals twice, in 2002 against Cameroon and 2019 against Algeria. Although they only managed to secure the first runner-up position in both matches, this time, the story is different. The squad included notable players such as Sadio Mané (Liverpool FC) and Ismaila Sarr (Watford FC), along with former national team player Aliou Cissé as the team’s coach.
The final was the trending topic in various towns across Egypt, Senegal, and other African countries. Many people gathered in local pubs, living rooms, streets, and city centers to watch the match, which took place at the Paul Biya Stadium in Olembé on the evening of Sunday, February 6, 2022.
Victor Gomes had the weighty responsibility of refereeing a very high-tension match, which had 53 fouls, 6 yellow cards, and several verbal exchanges between both teams. Later on, the match took an even more hectic turn when it ended nil-nil at full-time, which meant an advance to the penalty kick-out stage was necessary.
With Egypt having a stellar penalty reputation and Senegal’s Sadio Mané missing a penalty in the seventh minute of the final match, the public’s reaction soared even higher as the winner seemed to get less and less predictable. Through a neck-to-neck penalty shoot-out, Sadio Mané took Senegal to victory with a finalized match score of 4-2, making the country the winner of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
Unlike previous tournament fashion, the winning Senegalese team walked away with a $5 million cash prize instead of the usual $4 million cash prize given to winners in previous years. The Egyptian Pharaohs walked away with a $2.75 million cash prize as well, and lastly, all the teams that advanced to the quarter-final stage of the tournament received a token in the form of a cash prize.
Although there are no clear projections on the impact these financial prizes have on their home economies, there is major social gain as countries gather to support their respective teams. For example, following Senegal’s long-awaited win, a public holiday was declared to continue the celebration.
Furthermore, the winning team being coached by one of their own served as an affirmation for other African countries that ability, talent, and exceptional skill can be found from within and do not have to be highly sought after by other countries. This particular victory, in its specific context, continues to strengthen the idea that African nations can thrive without being dependent on external sources.
Unequivocally, Senegal’s consistent dedication towards its craft resulted in a victory that will be remembered forever. As explained by proud citizen and manager Aliou Cissé in a later interview, “We reached our goal, and what makes me even more proud is that we beat record-holders to it, so I would like to thank all my players! We had our eyes on the title for the last sixty years, and tonight we finally completed it! “.
At the moment, the next tournament is scheduled for summer 2023, hosted by Ivory Coast.