Hard work pays. That aptly depicts the story of Senegal’s triumphant campaign in the just concluded Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. After 7 matches and scoring 9 goals from regular play, Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations, for the first time in their history.
For a team that have dominated the African rankings in the past two years, the victory in Yaounde last Sunday, was a befitting crowning glory to years of hard work, consistency and careful planning.
Senegal first took part in the Africa Cup of Nations in 1965. The country announced her entrance with a fourth place finish in their first attempt. After that,further participation had been in fits and starts; they had been inconsistent In general terms, Senegal was regarded as a a mid-table force in African football.
Until now, their most notable achievements in football had been two runner up medals and a quarter final berth in the 2002 Korea/Japan FIFA World Cup. Their participation in the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup was a misadventure as they were out after the group matches. They were unlucky though as The Teranga Lions became the first team to be knocked out of the World Cup through a toss of the coin.
After the World Cup in Russia, Senegal returned to the drawing table and restrategised. They retained the technical crew led by Malou Cisse, a former international, who was part of the iconic 2002 squad that missed that year’s AFCON title to Cameroon but caused a stir in the World Cup in Korea/Japan.
The Lions opened their World Cup account with a decisive 2-1 defeat of France, then the defending champions. Senegal got to the quarter finals of that World Cup. Till date, they are one of only four African countries that have achieved the feat in the World Cup.
Malou Cisse, 45 was officially appointed as the head coach of the Lions of Teranga in March 2015, and he was in charge of the team as they reached the final of the 2019 edition in Egypt where they lost 1-0 to Algeria. Despite that loss to Algeria, Senegal has remained consistent in churning out good results, so much that they have remained in the pinnacle of FIFA rankings among African teams for more than 2 years.
With a strong belief in Cisse, Senegal has been able to build a very strong team that can challenge the best in the world. In Cameroon AFCON 2021, Senegal were pooled in Group B alongside Zimbabwe, Guinea, and Malawi. The Teranga Lions started slowly with a 1-0 victory against Zimbabwe, 0-0 with Guinea and 0-0 against Malawi.
They qualified for the Round of 16 with just one goal to their credit. Senegal were drawn against Cape Verde in the Round of 16, winning 2-0. With a steady momentum, the Lions then came up against Equatorial Guinea, whom they beat 3-1 in the quarter-finals.
In the semis, they brushed aside Burkina Faso after a 3-1 win, setting up a final with Egypt. After a 0-0 result in 120 minutes of play, the Lions of Teranga clinched their first-ever Afcon trophy after emerging 4-2 winners on penalties at Olembe Stadium, in Yaounde.
To lift their rating above the 2002 squad, Sadio Mane and his colleagues must go ahead and qualify for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, where, if they qualify, will be going as African champions. But they have the Pharaohs of Egypt standing between them and Qatar. It won’t be easy as the Egyptians who are already singing revenge will not be an easy pie.