Celebrations kicked off in Senegal on Sunday after its national team beat Egypt to win the Africa Cup of Nations, and the West African nation clinched its first title in the tournament after decades of failing in crucial matches.
The final whistle was met with chants, car horns and fireworks in the coastal capital Dakar after a difficult victory on penalties, in one moment eroding Senegal’s reputation among African teams that did not live up to expectations.
Thousands took to the streets, fans waved banners from the sunroofs of speeding cars, onlookers hugged and cried, and dozens ran toward a northern suburban beach, screaming into the night sky.
“Senegal lost a lot of titles in the final…Finally, we got the title,” said Babi Malik Diba, a 31-year-old merchant who danced with his friends in a crowded area in Dakar as fans struggled to see the screens in the crowd.
These were rare scenes of loneliness among Senegalese football fans who have had their share of the sport’s pain, and have suffered in the past two years from the restrictions and economic hardships caused by the “Covid-19” pandemic.
Senegal lost to Algeria in the final of the last edition in 2019, but entered this year’s tournament and is a candidate for the title.
The Senegalese national team’s list is filled with the stars of the major clubs in Europe, the most famous of which is Liverpool striker Sadio Mane, who scored the decisive penalty kick on Sunday in the Cameroonian capital (Yaounde), after missing a chance from a penalty kick in the original time.
The victory ends a history full of heavy losses.
In 2002, Senegal missed the opportunity to become the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals by losing to Turkey in extra time, and that year they also lost in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
In the 2018 World Cup finals, Senegal were eliminated from the group stage under a new rule that punished them for receiving more yellow cards than Japan in the group.
And yesterday, all these painful memories became forgotten.
“Joy and tears, because it is a historic victory,” Senegalese President Macky Sall said when asked about his reaction on national television. “For 60 years, our country has been striving for it. Well, we did it today.”