• Gaudie Sports

Senegal win African Cup of Nations for the first time in their history

Updated: Feb 9

Sadio Mane, having missed a penalty within the first five minutes of the final, scored the winning spot-kick to secure Senegal’s first ever AFCON title.


By Daniel Petersen




Credit: CAF




This year’s AFCON has been, quite simply, a brilliant tournament from start to finish, and the final, while not a goal-fest, continued supplying drama until literally the last kick.


There were so many different narratives going into the final, from Burkina Faso’s run to the semi-finals, Cameroon securing third place on home turf with a comeback from three goals down, and early exits for heavyweights such as Ghana and reigning champions Algeria.


The final itself was lain heavy with subplots, with Senegal’s own Gareth Southgate story in coach Ailou Cisse, who missed a penalty in the 2002 AFCON final and managed the national side to a 1-0 defeat to Algeria in 2019, and the clash of two modern-day Liverpool icons as Mane and Mohamed Salah lined up against each other, having occupied the top two spots in the African Footballer of the Year award for the last three consecutive years.


Egypt got to the final playing in the finest traditions of Portuguese coaching, with Carlos Queiroz’s side scoring 4 (four!) goals on the way to the final, in a run that echoed Fernando Santos’ Portugal of Euro 2016, who only won a single game in normal time on the way to the final. Egypt played 120 minutes on three separate occasions in the knockout rounds and won two penalty shootouts en route to the final. They were the second-dirtiest side in the tournament behind Gabon, committing more than 20 per game, and in the final itself, there were a staggering 53 fouls in total.

Senegal were pegged as early favourites, understandably so with a treasure chest of talent also containing Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly and Ismaila Sarr, to name just a few of the more famous ones, and it was clear that the talent was more balanced throughout their squad than Egypt, who did seem a little over-reliant on Salah for inspiration going forward.


Despite all the rather Anglo-centric noises prior to the final, however, the two Liverpool forwards were overshadowed by their teammates throughout, with Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo shining in central defence for the Lions of Teranga, and Gabaski, Egypt’s third-choice goalkeeper and this writer’s personal player of the tournament, keeping the Pharaohs in the game with another strong, vivacious performance between the sticks.


A word, also, for Comoros. The team hailing from an island group in the Indian Ocean with a population of 850,000 people first knocked Ghana out with a 3-2 victory, before providing the ultimate entertainment by going into the game against hosts Cameroon without a recognised goalkeeper, putting in a simply magnificent performance despite defeat.


There was also a little bit of tasty refereeing drama in Tunisia’s game against Mali, which was stopped in the 85th minute, then restarted, then prematurely ended again in the 89th minute. The referee in question was found to have suffered from heatstroke, understandably given that temperatures in Limbe that day peaked at 34º Celsius with 74% humidity.


There were many strong candidates for game of the tournament, including the final and Comoros’ aforementioned win over Ghana, but Cameroon’s comeback from 3-0 down to claim third-place on penalties takes the cake, while captain Vincent Aboubakar claimed the Golden Boot to round off a successful, if perhaps a little disappointing, tournament for the host nation.


By contrast, the goal of the tournament was a no-contest: Gabadinho Mhango’s strike for Malawi against Morocco was the dictionary definition of a thunderbolt. Only a replay really does justice to the sheer brilliance of this one, so do yourself a favour and watch it if you haven’t seen it yet.


In fact, if you didn’t watch this tournament, you really did miss out.


Take it from one of the converted.