Aliou Cisse — who was named Coach of the Tournament — has finally won the AFCON on his third attempt. Since he took over, the former Birmingham City midfielder has taken Senegal from 64th to 18th in the FIFA rankings
Coming into the 2022 AFCON tournament, Senegal was the biggest African country that has never won the continental title. The Teranga Lions have appeared in 16 previous editions of the tournament, reaching the final twice and losing on both occasions.
The first was in 2002 when the country’s Golden Generation — that comprises of the likes of El Hadji Diouf, Papa Bouba Diop, Henri Camara, Khalilou Fadiga et al — lost to Cameroon in a penalty shootout.
The Golden Generation would go on to appease the Senegalese people with a remarkable showing at the World Cup later that year. They defeated the defending world champions, France, in the opening match and went all the way to the quarterfinals — becoming just the 2nd African nation to do so.
The second final was at the 2019 tournament in Egypt where they lost to Algeria courtesy of a Baghdad Bounedjah goal.
Current head coach, Aliou Cisse, was part of both defeats. He was the captain of the Golden Generation side and missed the decisive penalty at the 2002 AFCON final.
He was also the manager when the team lost to Algeria in 2019. Thus he was under intense pressure heading into this year’s tournament in Cameroon.
“I believe this man [Aliou Cisse] deserves everything because he’s the most criticised coach I’ve ever seen in my life, but he never gives up,” Sadio Mane said in an interview with BBC Sport Africa.
“He trusts himself, he trusts the group. He has critics outside, but right here he is doing his job.
“Most importantly, we would like to win this for him and our country because he deserves it after everything he went through as a player for Senegal and now as the coach.
“It will be a great reward for everything he has given to his country.”
Senegal’s run to the title
The Teranga Lions did not made the best possible start to the competition as the squad was affected by the coronavirus on the eve of the tournament. They won just a single game in their group stage clashes against Zimbabwe, Guinea and Malawi, scoring just a single goal — a 97th minute Mane penalty against Zimbabwe.
They hit the ground running in the knock-out stages. Defeating Cape Verde 2-0 in the Round of 16.
In the quarterfinals, they overcame Equatorial Guinea by 3 goals to 1 to set up a semi-final date with Burkina Faso.
The Burkinabes gave them a run for their money in the last four but Senegal eventually triumphed 3-1 to reach their first ever consecutive AFCON final — the first team to do so after Egypt in 2010.
Senegal (and Cisse) would have relished the opportunity of playing hosts Cameroon in the final to avenge the 2002 defeat, but the Indomitable Lions got defeated by Egypt in the other semifinal game.
Still, it will be a great achievement to defeat the Pharaohs who are the most successful team in AFCON history with 7 titles.
Prior to the final, captain Kalidou Koulibaly expressed Senegal’s desire to emerge as African champions after losing the final of the 2019 edition to Algeria.
“This is my first Africa Cup of Nations final; I couldn’t play the final in the previous edition. This frustrated me but I had confidence in my teammates in 2019,” the Napoli defender told the media.
“[On Sunday], I have the opportunity to make up for that final, and we must work as a team and players to achieve something for Senegal.
“Senegal’s victory is more important than who will play, so I do everything to put myself at the disposal of the team and the coach.
“It’s a dream for me and I can picture it in my head. It’s the dream of all Senegalese.”
Cisse’s men got the best possible start to the final when Mohamed Abdelmonem conceded a penalty by fouling Saliou Cisse in the box, but Mane squandered the glorious opportunity when the impressive Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal saved his spot kick.
Senegal didn’t let that deter them though, as they continue dominating the game, but they couldn’t score a goal as the Egyptians defended resolutely. As neither side could score in regular time and extra time, the game was to be decided by a penalty shootout.
For Senegal, Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo stepped forward to convert the first two attempts in the penalty shoot-out but Egypt missed their second effort as Abdelmonem’s strike hit the upright.
Gabaski was called to action and he saved Bouna Sarr’s effort while Mendy comfortably saved Mohanad Lasheen’s shot and Mane stepped up to score the decisive spot kick — sealing the greatest moment in Senegal football history.
The shootout ended 4-2, with the Teranga Lions (and Cisse) banishing the demons of the 2002 final defeat in Mali after 20 years.
Mane was named the Best Player of the Tournament as he scored three goals and made two assists. Edouard Mendy was named as the Best Goalkeeper of Tournament as he kept 5 clean sheets in 7 matches.
Aliou Cisse — who was named Coach of the Tournament — has finally won the AFCON on his third attempt. Since he took over, the former Birmingham City midfielder has taken Senegal from 64th to 18th in the FIFA rankings.
The team was given a grand reception on arrival in Senegal and President Macky Sall awarded them the Grand Officers of the National Order — the country’s highest order. In addition each of the players and members of the coaching crew will receive 50 million Franc CFA ($87,412) and a 200 square meter plot of land in the nation’s capital, Dakar.
Star man, Sadio Mane, will also have a stadium named after him in his home town of Sedhiou.