In one day, history was made in Senegal.

The streets of Dakar woke up early, anxious yet determined on Sunday morning, rallying behind their national football team competing for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon and ended the day in phenomenal jubilance. 

‘’Today, what we feel is citizenship to this country. Nothing else matters for now’’, said one fan in the street. Football fever has momentarily overshadowed the country’s ongoing economic and pandemic woes.
‘’Today, what we feel is citizenship to this country. Nothing else matters for now’’, said one fan in the street. Football fever has momentarily overshadowed the country’s ongoing economic and pandemic woes. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

In the 120th minute after the start of the game, Senegal’s star player Sadio Mane scored the winning penalty and accomplished the dreams of the West African nation.

Bets on the continent were split between Senegal and seven-time winner Egypt. Although coming close, Senegal had never in fact won any championship and Egypt was the continent’s most decorated team.

As dusk fell on Sunday, fresh memories of Senegal’s defeat by Algeria – a team similar to Egypt’s - in the 2019 AFCON were conjured up and relived in the streets as the game passed without a single goal being scored.

In one of Dakar’s oldest neighbourhoods, 24-year old soccer fan Bamba Dieng stands in front of a baobab tree said to have cleared the quarters from bad spirits. To Bamba, football is intrinsically linked to immigration. ‘’Football has helped Senegalese make it big internationally by migrating, ’’he says.
In one of Dakar’s oldest neighbourhoods, 24-year old soccer fan Bamba Dieng stands in front of a baobab tree said to have cleared the quarters from bad spirits. To Bamba, football is intrinsically linked to immigration. ‘’Football has helped Senegalese make it big internationally by migrating, ’’he says. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

Throughout Dakar, match-watching was a communal, flamboyant affair. Thousands of fans bedecked in red, yellow and green flags and body paint gathered around giant screens set up in restaurants, landmarks and public squares. 

Moments before the match’s start thousands took to the streets to watch the match that would see them through to the end of the month-long Afcon championship.
Moments before the match’s start thousands took to the streets to watch the match that would see them through to the end of the month-long Afcon championship. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

The cards for glory were in Senegal’s hands and winning had become a sort of quest heretofore denied them. It was all too clear what a victory would mean. 

Fans also booked seats to watch the game in Dakar’s ocean-side restaurants in an upscale area. Tensions were high throughout the capital of Senegal from the moment the country's star player Sadio Mane missed a penalty early on in the game.
Fans also booked seats to watch the game in Dakar’s ocean-side restaurants in an upscale area. Tensions were high throughout the capital of Senegal from the moment the country's star player Sadio Mane missed a penalty early on in the game. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

‘’It’s the biggest moment in Senegal’s history, bigger than the 1960 independence. All the previous generations tried to win and failed. Senegal has always had some great players on its team and came close to the trophy many times, but never managed to get the title. And playing against Egypt, the challenge was bigger so the better the victory,’’ declared Hady Wehbe, co-founder of Football Senegal and consultant at the Real Madrid Foundation for Africa and Canada.

Dakar’s most important landmark, the Renaissance Monument, hosted thousands of spectators in front of a large screen. It was here that some of the most electrifying energy was felt.
Dakar’s most important landmark, the Renaissance Monument, hosted thousands of spectators in front of a large screen. It was here that some of the most electrifying energy was felt. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

In the eyes of many spectators, the final narrowed down to a play-off between the two Liverpool players most famous in their home countries, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. 

In the last few moments of the overtime, fans watching the game in Dakar’s Place du Souvenir displayed their emotions during the tensest moment of the game. Victory would come down to their performance during the final penalties.
In the last few moments of the overtime, fans watching the game in Dakar’s Place du Souvenir displayed their emotions during the tensest moment of the game. Victory would come down to their performance during the final penalties. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

Fans in Dakar fervently brandished Mane’s jersey and expected more action from him on the pitch. ‘’He’s been so discreet throughout the tournament, we were wondering whether he would show a different character in the final’’, commented Francois Goudiaby, a 33-year-old soccer fan in Dakar.

Crowds erupt at the HLM Grand Yoff neighborhood of Dakar a few moments after Senegal was declared winner of the 2022 African Cup of Nations.
Crowds erupt at the HLM Grand Yoff neighborhood of Dakar a few moments after Senegal was declared winner of the 2022 African Cup of Nations. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

In the end, Mane scored the final penalty in a moment of sheer drama that left crowds in Dakar kneeling in prayer. Mane redeemed himself and his nation just as the stakes were highest. 

Fans sit in trees overlooking the road leading to the Presidential Palace of Dakar hoping to greet the players parading through the city. The Lions of Teranga were welcomed as heros upon landing, with President Macky Sall meeting them at the airport.
Fans sit in trees overlooking the road leading to the Presidential Palace of Dakar hoping to greet the players parading through the city. The Lions of Teranga were welcomed as heros upon landing, with President Macky Sall meeting them at the airport. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

From that moment, Senegal erupted in celebrations all night and the following day (declared a national holiday), as people came from all over the country to await the plane carrying the triumphant players home from Yaounde.

Fans line the streets of the road leading to the Presidential Palace of Dakar to greet the busload of players moving from the Leopold Senghor airport to the palace.
Fans line the streets of the road leading to the Presidential Palace of Dakar to greet the busload of players moving from the Leopold Senghor airport to the palace. (Maya Hautefeuille / TRTWorld)

Millions lined the streets from the Leopold Senghor airport to the presidential palace to welcome the Lions of Teranga home with their trophy, an occasion they’d been waiting for 60 years. ‘’We dedicate this victory to the Senegalese people, because since Independence we’ve been chasing after this first star on our jersey,’’ exhaled the euphoric Alioune Cisse, the coach of Senegal’s national team.

Source: TRT World