Mane consoles Egyptian star after Mo Salah after Senegal’s victory. Photo: YouTube.
[The View From Zimbabwe]
Sadio Mane, undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever emerge from Senegal, scored the winning spot-kick to propel the “Lions of Teranga” to their first ever Africa Cup of Nations title with a 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory over seven-time winners Egypt.
A decisive kick from Mane sealed the deal. Mane played superbly and carried Senegal to victory in the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations final. The Lions of Teranga are African champions for the first time after previously losing two finals. It was a huge relief for expectant Senegalese fans who celebrated in their national colors.
Aliou Cissé, the coach and his team are basking in glory and taking in all the adoration and love from Senegal and the entire African football loving fans. The men of Cissé beat Egypt on February 6 with a 4-2 win in the penalty shoot-out at Olembé stadium of Yaoundé capping a good run against the Pharaohs of Mo Salah. The Lions of Teranga dashed Egypt’s hopes for a record eighth crown win.
The battle between the Lions of Teranga and the “Pharaohs” brought the curtain down at the African Cup of Nations tournament where African teams were fighting for the continent’s coveted cup. Senegal burst into a celebration mood as their soccer team overcame Egypt to win the AFCON after what soccer analysts say were “decades of heartbreaking near misses.”
Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets to applaud their team. Many cheered, ululated, honked car horns and let off fireworks as they reveled in victory. This erased Senegal’s reputation as one of Africa’s perennial losing football finalists.
The West African nation’s football crazy people waved flags from the sunroofs of speeding cars. Many others hugged and cried while scores ran onto a beach in a northern suburb, screaming to the night sky. Cameroon, waved goodbye to a continental football family, which it has hosted for the past month, as the curtain comes down on the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
The country, for a while basked in the glow that was lit by the successful hosting of the tournament silencing doubting voices around the world that feared a seven year-old conflict between separatists in Anglophone regions that want their own state, called Ambazonia, are fighting against Francophone dominance in Cameroon, could mar the event.
A civil war has been raging in Cameroon since 2016. The conflict between the French-speaking majority state and the smaller English-speaking parts of the country has been simmering for decades. Cameroon also faced the logistical conundrum of having to host the tournament within the context of coronavirus, infrastructure limitations, overt skepticism from FIFA—world soccer governing body—and increasing opposition from European clubs to release players.
The deadly stadium crush at the Stade d’Olembe, where eight people were killed and 38 injured prior to Cameroon’s last-16 win against the Comoros, had also threatened to clearly put off returning to Olembe – the giant 60,000 –seater stadium.
All this had blighted Cameroon’s prospects of hosting the tournament successfully. However, despite the fears and criticism, Cameroon later turned into admirable hosts. Cameroon made a spectacular comeback during Saturday’s game against Burkina Faso to win third place in the AFCON.
This gave Cameroonian football fans some reasons to rejoice. Some of Cameroon’s finest artists brought the tournament to a rousing close when they performed at the closing ceremony at the Olembé Stadium in Yaoundé, moments before the final match.
Cameroonian artists Salatiel, Daphne and Stanley Enow and James BKS, a music composer and African Hip Hop artist who is the son of legendary music icon Manu Dibango all rocked the event, lifting the spirits of the Cameroonians high.
Cameroon leader Paul Biya as well as the President of CAF, Dr Patrice Motsepe, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino attended the event that was colorful and vibrant.
Betting houses from Algeria to Zimbabwe have been active during the past 22 days or so of the tournament as Africa’s best tussled to land the trophy.
Some football fans are counting the costs of their losses while those who placed their faith on Senegal have every reason to smile.
And, despite the adversity, the raging Covid -19 pandemic, the civil war in Cameroon, the tournament for a while cheered the hearts of many Africans bringing out a glow of a happy, smiling, progressive African continent.
Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe [email protected]