It was a day to remember for football fans on the continent especially for the Senegalese people, as the Teranga Lions emerged winners of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their history.
The Teranga Lions who were competing at Africa’s premier continental football event for the 16th time, made it third time lucky as they defeated the Pharaohs of Egypt 4-2 on penalties after scores had remained goalless following 120 minutes of action. Senegal had fallen short twice in the final hurdle previously – first in Mali 2002 when they fell 3-2 on penalties to Cameroon and in Egypt 2019 where they lost 1-0 to Algeria.
Sunday’s triumph was a fitting tribute to Head Coach Aliou Cisse who was on the losing side on two occasions – first as captain and player of the Senegalese team in Mali 2002 and as manager in Egypt 2019. Cisse has been at the helm of the national team since 2015 and has received a huge share of criticism (sometimes unfairly) from fans in the country but he has repaid the faith shown in him by the Senegalese FA by delivering their first-ever AFCON crown.
Following the conclusion of the tournament at the Paul Biya Stadium in Olembe on Sunday night, several players received accolades for their outstanding displays all through the four-week long event. We begin by taking a look at some of them….
TOP GOALSCORER (VINCENT ABOUBAKAR – CAMEROON): Hosts Cameroon reached the semi-finals of the AFCON on home soil by notching a total of 15 goals, but more than half of those strikes came from the foot of talismanic captain Vincent Aboubakar. The 29 year-old who plies his trade with Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr netted eight times to help the Indomitable Lions win the bronze medal and also lay claim to the Golden Boot.
BEST GOALKEEPER OF THE TOURNAMENT (EDOUARD MENDY – SENEGAL): The Chelsea shot-stopper scooped the Award following his stirring displays in between the sticks for the Teranga Lions. Mendy had missed his side’s opening two group games after testing positive for Covid-19 but upon his return, he kept three clean sheets to help his country win Africa’s biggest football prize.
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH (MOHAMED ABOU GABAL – EGYPT): The Zamalek goalkeeper was immense in the Final against Senegal on Sunday. Gabal aka Gabaski was never the first-choice of the Egyptian team, but took his chance when injury side-lined the team’s main shot-stopper. Gabal saved an early first-half penalty from Liverpool forward Sadio Mane in the Final including another one in the shootout, but his heroics weren’t enough as Egypt lost to eventual champions Senegal. All through the games he featured, Gabal saved as much as eight penalties (including regulation time and penalty shootouts) to help the Pharaohs reach the AFCON 2021 Final.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT (SADIO MANE – SENEGAL): The former Salzburg and Southampton attacker was the engine room behind the Teranga Lions successful bid to win a maiden AFCON title. Senegal boasts of an array of talented players including the likes of Idrissa Gueye, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ismaila Sarr et al but Mane shone brightly as he netted three times and provided two assists to help the Teranga Lions win AFCON 2021 at the third time of asking. The Liverpool frontman put the disappointment of missing an early penalty kick behind him, as he stepped up and slotted home the decisive spot kick which guaranteed Senegal the AFCON title.
BEST YOUNG PLAYER (ISSA KABORE – BURKINA FASO): The 20 year-old defender who currently plays for French Ligue 1 outfit Troyes on loan from Premier League giants Manchester City, was a revelation during the tournament. The right-back featured in all seven games for the Stallions and provided three assists with a passing accuracy of 75% as Burkina Faso reached the semi-finals of AFCON 2021 in Cameroon.
BEST COACH AWARD (ALIOU CISSE – SENEGAL): Rightly deserved! The 45 year-old former player and current Senegal coach led the Teranga Lions to an unbeaten AFCON campaign, which resulted in the country claiming a maiden Nations Cup title.
FAIR PLAY AWARD (SENEGAL): The Teranga Lions of Senegal scooped the Fair Play Award having been adjudged the best fair play team of the tournament.