Despite its popularity, very few people know much about the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
AFCON was founded 65 years ago in 1957, and at that time, only three nations participated.
The tournament used to be held after a span of every two years, however, a new path was decided when it shifted to years of odd numbers in the year 2013. This was to avoid any interference whatsoever with the Fifa World Cup competitions. In addition, six decades after it was founded, the tournament increased the number of teams to 24, up from 16.
Fifty-four national teams are allowed to compete for their qualification through regional knockout. However, only 24 of these teams will be able to enter the competition and perhaps win the title. In the renowned Champions League tournament, the teams are placed in groups of four in which the top two teams proceed to the knockout phase, the quarter-finals, semifinals, and lastly, the finals. Over the years, Egypt has proved to be the most efficacious team as they have been crowned champions seven times. The most recent winners of the title, Senegal, were crowned at the expense of Egypt. In this article, we shall be reviewing the journey of Senegal’s road to glory.
Currently, Senegal is ranked as position number 20 by Fifa. Sitting just below Wales, the nation has endured its fair share of disappointments on the international stage. Walking into this competition, Senegal was not the most likely team to emerge victoriously, even though they had big names, including Liverpool’s Sadio Mane PSG’s Diallo, among others. However, as the tournament progressed, more people became aware of Senegal’s potential. At the sidelines was Aliou Cisse, a former Senegalese player who missed a crucial penalty in a shootout in the 2002 finals.
Senegal emerged as group B leaders with an unbeaten run. In the three matches played, they managed one win and two draws. On January 25th, Senegal won against Cape Verde with a convincing 2-0 scoreline. This meant they were to face Equatorial Guinea to fight for a semifinal slot, a chance that was taken by the Senegalese team by a 3-1 victory. The same victory was replicated at the semis as they triumphed against Burkina Faso, thus earning a place at the final. The stage was set. The mood building up to the finals was terrific as Senegal met Egypt at the finals. Egypt aimed to continue its dominance by winning its eighth title as Senegal hoped to make history. However, this was not the only conversation in people’s mouths. It was also deemed as a Sadio Mane vs Mohammed Salah battle. Two of the most popular attackers in the Premier League, sharing a common club-Liverpool, were made to go against each other for the sake of their nations. It is true to say that the whole world was interested in this final.
As expected, the game kicked off with high octane energy as both teams showed hunger and desire. The energy was also accompanied by aggression. Barely ten minutes into the match, Egypt gave away a penalty. Sadio Mane stepped up to take but failed to convert. Senegal continued to push for a goal, and as time progressed, Egypt adapted into a more defensive shape and relied more on counterattacks. At times they created decent chances with Mohammed Salah sprinting past Senegalese defense, however, Edouard Mendy, a Chelsea’s goalkeeper, kept his team in the game. The stats were in favor of Senegal as they had the most shot on goal, both off and on target. They dominated 57% of the ball, making 435 accurate passes, which translated to an 81% pass success. Egypt also had a couple of decent chances, but their structure meant that they had little to do with the ball at their disposal. As most would have predicted, the full-time score was a barren stalemate.
Extra time saw the teams show a little bit of fatigue with clumsy tackles flying from everywhere. However, fatigue didn’t deter these players from finding a winner in the additional 30 minutes of the game, and this meant that the keepers from both ends had to stand up to the occasion. With both teams settling for a draw at the end of 120 minutes, the tournament winner was to be decided by a tense penalty shootout. As expected, Sadio Mane and Salah were to be the last takers. Senegal’s Bouna Sarr missed his penalty just after Egypt’s Mohamed Abdelmonem. However, Dieng from Senegal and Marwan Hamadi from Egypt found the net, making the score 4-2. This meant that Sadio Mane’s penalty was to decide the fate of both teams. Having missed a penalty in the first half, Mane stepped up and converted the penalty winning his country its first AFCON title.
All AFCON teams displayed great skills in their respective matches. Indeed, congratulations are in order for teams that qualified each group stage as we wait for the next and even better tournament. Meanwhile, Africa is green thanks to Senegal’s hard-earned victory.