DAKAR (REUTERS, AFP) - Senegal erupted in celebration on Sunday night (Feb 6) after its football team overcame Egypt to win the Africa Cup of Nations, giving the West African country its first tournament win after decades of heartbreaking near-misses.
Cheers, car horns and fireworks greeted the final whistle in the seaside capital Dakar after a hard-won victory in a penalty shoot-out that in an instant erased Senegal's reputation as one of Africa's underachieving footballing nations.
Thousands took to the streets. People waved flags from the sunroofs of speeding cars. Onlookers hugged and cried. Dozens ran onto a beach in a northern suburb, screaming to the night sky.
"Senegal has lost so many trophies in the final. This is a relief. Finally, we have it!" said Pape Malick Diba, a 31-year-old trader who danced with friends at a fan zone in Dakar, where supporters struggled to see the screens through the crowds.
These were rare scenes of collective rapture for Senegalese football fans, who have seen their fair share of sporting heartache, and who in the last two years have suffered the restrictions and economic hardship caused by the pandemic.
Senegal lost to Algeria in the final of the last tournament in 2019, but entered this year's competition as favourites.
Their squad is full of stars from some of Europe's top clubs, most famously Liverpool striker Sadio Mane, who scored the winning penalty in Sunday's shoot-out in Cameroon's capital Yaounde after missing a chance from the spot in regulation.
On Sunday, Mane had seen Mohamed Abou Gabal save his seventh-minute penalty at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde but seven-time champions Egypt could not capitalise as they went to extra time for the fourth consecutive game at this Cup of Nations.
Mohamed Salah was due to step up to take Egypt's fifth penalty but with Mohamed Abdelmonem hitting the post and Mohanad Lasheen having his kick saved by Edouard Mendy, the Liverpool star did not get his chance and was already on the verge of tears as his club team-mate Mane prepared to strike the decisive blow.
Senegal's victory ends a storied history of tough losses. In 2002, Senegal narrowly missed the opportunity to become the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final, losing to Turkey in extra time. That year, they also lost in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.
In the 2018 World Cup, they were eliminated at the group stage under a new rule that penalised them for receiving more yellow cards than group rivals Japan.
On Sunday, those old memories were forgotten.
"Joy, tears, because it is a historic victory," said Senegal President Macky Sall when asked for his reaction on national television.
"For 60 years our country has been seeking this. Well, we have done it today."
"It just shows that if you work hard, if you persevere, you will get what you want," Senegal coach Aliou Cisse told broadcaster beIN Sports. "I am very emotional because the people of Senegal have wanted this trophy for 60 years."
Egypt goalkeeper Abou Gabal, who was named man of the match, summed up the losing side's mood, saying: "We are really disappointed but that's football, either you win or you lose."
The final was the fifth in the last 11 editions of the tournament to be decided in a shoot-out after a goalless draw.