Stories behind the remaking of Senegal AFCON history in Cameroon
Lions of Teranga emerged victorious in the just concluded Africa Cup of Nations tournament (AFCON) held in Cameroon. The Senegalese beat the Egyptians 4-2 in a nervy penalty shootout following a goalless 90 minutes plus extra time. Sadio Mane fired home the decisive penalty to hand Senegal a historic first win of the cup.
Mane vs Salah
The Salah-Mane contest ended in tears for Mohamed Salah and his Egyptian teammates. Away from the fanfare, the champions Senegal stood out for their resilience over the years. Losing to Algeria in the 2019 edition apparently strengthened their resolve to clinch the title.
Within the Senegal squad are inspiring grass to grace stories of Sadio Mane and Edouard Mendy. The forward and goalkeeper respectively came up from very humble beginnings and worked their socks off for their present accomplishments.
Sadio Mane left home as a kid with nothing on him, but a desire to play football. He looked up to his friend who offered him some money as bus fare to Dakar, where he went in search of a chance. Having been welcomed by a family totally strange to him, Mane took the chance and fought.
Mane’s arrival almost cast a bad spell on him when he hit the training academy with written off clothes, looking like nothing even close to a footballer. His boots looked ridiculous to his hosts, who reprimanded him for not being serious.
Amidst over 200 youngsters competing for scarce opportunities, Mane was picked up. He never looked back. Mane ended up in the Liverpool squad as a high-profile signing from Southampton FC.
Fast forward to 2022, Mane has led the Senegal AFCON squad to their first ever Africa Cup of Nations win. Sadio was named Africa player of the year 2020. He also won 2018/2019 Premier League Golden Boot, having emerged as top scorer alongside Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and his Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah.
The top-class Chelsea and Senegal goalie started out under not the best of conditions. Born in France of a Guinea-Bissau father and Senegalese mother, Mendy struggled to find identity early in his life. He has been involved with the Guinea-Bissau football team before.
His time at Cherbourg ended tragically. Mendy’s career was thrown into oblivion after the club decided not to offer him a contract renewal. He suddenly could not reach his agent and his knocks on clubs’ doors went unanswered.
Fortunately, he got word through his friend that Merseille football club wanted a reserve keeper. Mendy jumped at the chance and gave his all. Marseille goalkeeping coach Mr. Bernatowicz was gracious enough to connect him to Reims, which was a Ligue 2 team at the time.
Called upon to take over in between the sticks after Reims No.1 got injured, Mendy delivered and he kept his spot. He went to Rennes in the 2019/20 season where he was noticed and picked up by Chelsea FC. Since his signing for Chelsea, Edouard Mendy has won a FIFA award for Best Men’s Goalkeeper, the UEFA Champions League, and AFCON’s Best Goalkeeper.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse
The veteran player and coach has personally overseen the emergence of Senegal as a powerhouse of African football, both as captain and coach of the Lions of Teranga.
He lately masterminded the path to victory by Senegal, vindicating his years of effort, patriotism and service to his country. He was arguably the man of the moment in the aftermath of the Senegal vs Egypt AFCON final.
Captaining his side, Cisse led his teammates to the final in Bamako Mali 2002 where he sadly missed his kick in the penalty shootout. Cameroonians were crowned champions as a result. Cisse again had another stab at the final now as a coach, where he again lost to the Desert Foxes Algeria.
In 2022, however, Aliou Cisse led a redemption operation in Yaoundé Cameroon where he won the trophy, stamping the Senegalese authority in the competition.