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It’s a national obsession. A dream that has been passed down from generation to generation since the dawn of time. This dream is that of a star that would illuminate an entire nation; that which is entrusted to the winners of the African Cup of Nations (CAN). Since its first participation in this tournament, in 1965, Senegal has never snatched it, despite two narrowly lost finals, in 2002 and 2019. Wednesday February 2, at 8 p.m., the Lions of Teranga face Burkina Faso , at the Ahmadou-Ahidjo stadium in Yaoundé, for the fifth semi-final in their history. An opportunity to qualify for the ultimate match of this competition and bring home the cup. This dream may come true: Senegal overcame their opponent 1-3 in a duel of madness.
under the breeze equatorial, the players, led by Sadio Mané, had no right to defeat against the twirling Stallions: only the wins account, no matter how. And as Aliou Cissé, the coach, said so well, we must first pass “the Burkinabé obstacle” before hoping for the long-awaited triumph.
The game begins. On the lawn watered by a long rain, a few hours earlier, there is respect and tension. From the first minutes, the teams do not give up. Blow for blow. Shot for shot. Dribbling for dribble. When it is not Bertrand Traoré who panics the defense of the Lions, it is Sadio Mané – feared – who can score at any time. It is believed that Senegal dominates, but the Stallions – uninhibited, liberated and motivated by the political instability in their country – unfold a football of speed, against, even if some actions remain muddled. The shots end up in the stands or in the gloves of Edouard Mendy or Kouakou Koffi.
Then the half gets carried away: on a ball in depth, Koffi flies away from his cages and, releasing the leather with his fist, the Burkinabé goalkeeper comes to hurtly collide Cheikhou Kouyaté (28and). The two men find themselves on the ground. Penalty whistled. Truly ? After consulting the video assistant referee (VAR), the Ethiopian referee, Bamlak Tessema, cancels it. Koffi, who had a superb tournament, must nevertheless leave on injury, replaced by his lining. Hard blow.
Lions play scare each other
Just before the break, Edmond Tapsoba repels the shot from Senegalese Idrissa Gueye with his hand. Penalty whistled. Truly ? The referee consults the video assistance screen a second time and again cancels the sanction: the defender’s arm was stuck to the body. The audience roars. End of the first half. The duel is balanced; the Burkinabés believe ardently in their luck. The Senegalese, as since the start of the tournament, are unable to display a flamboyant game. The Lions play to scare themselves as against Equatorial Guinea, in the previous round (3-1). Domination is not straightforward; only Mané can certainly make the difference…
The stands are slowly filling up, the djembes have replaced the vuvuzelas. Tireless, the Senegalese supporters continue to dance like metronomes. The game resumes. Tense. Undecided. The Stallions continue their ride towards the opposing surface. Senegal recovers, poses its passes and appears physically more solid. On a corner, Kalidou Koulibaly attempts a return which ends at the feet of his defense partner: Abdou Diallo only has to push the ball and score (70and). The stands explode. The goal of the young player from Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG) – his first in selection – seems to free the Lions. A few minutes later, Nampalys Mendy even tries a curling shot from afar; Pape Gueye is not far from doubling the lead.
A Parisian can hide another. The dazzling Sadio Mané tears away to recover the ball from the feet of a defender, erases it and serves Idrissa Gueye. The midfielder of PSG doubles the mark (76and). It is then believed that Senegal will crunch its opponent; but the Stallions continue to push. Ibrahim Blati Touré manages to close the gap by scoring with… the knee (82and).
The duel is crazy. Bertrand Troré hopes to pick up the score; but once again, the light will come from the guide of Senegal. After a lightning counter-attack, Sadio Mané concludes with a stung shot (87and): 1-3. In the press box, the Senegalese journalists, hysterical, cannot contain their joy and throw themselves into each other’s arms. It’s the end of the confrontation: the Lions go to the final, like in 2019. Like in 2002.
“A popular, media and political expectation”
“The expectation is immense”notes Cheikh Fantamady Keita, Senegalese journalist at the daily The sun. How to contradict it? Eighty-five reporters – including nineteen women – came from this corner of the continent to cover the African Cup, following the national team very closely. “A popular, media and political expectation”, says Mr. Keita. Indeed, Macky Sall, the President of the Republic, had asked the selection, before it flew to Cameroon, ” victory “. And what about the Minister of Sports, Matar Ba, who does not take his eyes off the Lions in Cameroon?
“It’s this year or neveradds the special envoy of the Sun. The team has matured. Some internationals have been playing together since the 2012 Olympics. Boys like Sadio Mané, even though he is only 29, are getting older. It is time for this generation to win the continental title. » Even coach Aliou Cissé – who was assistant coach at the London Games at the time – agrees: ” We are close (…). We are hopeful that this star will come and that it will be in Cameroon”, he said, the day before the match. Then he added: “One thing is certain: we have never doubted what we are capable of doing. This group is motivated and aware today that they are capable of writing history. »
Tonight, at the Ahmadou-Ahidjo stadium in Yaoundé, the Lions woke up. Finally.
Corrigendum on February 3 at 7:40 p.m.: correction of an error on the first name of Edouard Mendy.