The year 2022 is already by far the most successful for Senegalese football. In less than four months, however, the next highlight awaits »Les Lions de la Téranga« (the Téranga lions) with the soccer World Cup in Qatar in November and December.
For the first time in its history, Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations on February 6th this year at the tournament in Cameroon. In a dramatic penalty shoot-out, they defeated slightly favored Egypt around world star Mohammed Salah 4-2. The celebrations lasted for days in the West African country. Senegal had been waiting for this title for a long time after losing the finals to Cameroon in 2002 and Algeria in 2019. The Senegalese stood behind their team throughout the tournament. Every game was a celebration, whether in the capital Dakar or in a remote village on the savannah. As a thank you for the support, President Macky Sall spontaneously gave the population a day of special leave on the following Monday.
Only about a month and a half later, the two currently best African football teams took revenge. Again it was about big things: qualifying for the World Cup. And this time, too, Senegal had the necessary fortune on their side. After 2002 and 2018, coach Aliou Cissé’s team qualified for a World Cup finals for the third time. Although there was not a day of special leave this time, we still celebrated for days. It was the dominant topic in the gazettes of the country with almost 18 million inhabitants, most of whom have to live on less than two euros a day. Senegal made a name for itself, and not just in Africa. In Europe, too, where numerous Senegalese national players are under contract, people are looking all the more closely at what is currently going on in the football-loving country.
In Qatar, Senegal meet the hosts, Ecuador and group favorites Netherlands in Group A. The chances of reaching the round of 16 are not bad. Just like at the World Cup premiere 20 years ago in Japan and South Korea. At that time, the lions beat the former colonial power France 1-0 in the group stage and qualified for the round of 16. It was only in the quarter-finals against Turkey, who later came third in the World Cup, that it was over. An unforgettable moment in Senegalese football. But this is currently even topped.
The impressive success story is closely linked to star striker Sadio Mané, who has been with FC Bayern Munich for a few weeks. The 30-year-old moved from this year’s Champions League finalists Liverpool to the Isar for almost 32 million euros in the summer. Mané could quickly make Bayern forget the era of world footballer Robert Lewandowski. He had already started with the Super Cup final against RB Leipzig. The exceptional striker helped Munich, who are used to success, to their first title of the new season with his 2-0 win. It was Mané who converted the decisive penalty in the Africa Cup of Nations final against Egypt and ensured that Senegal travel to the World Cup. Mané was the 2019 Champions League winner and voted Africa’s best footballer. In 2020 he won the English championship with Liverpool FC.
If his parents had had their way, Sadio Mané would have become a teacher. He is now a folk hero in his home country. Nevertheless, he has remained down-to-earth, as far as one can say that about a football professional who is worth millions in this day and age. Mané is also committed off the pitch. He is a benefactor in his home village of Bambali. He donates money to schools, hospitals and mosques. He recently organized a gala game with former and current teammates on the soccer field of his youth.
Mané was recently crowned Africa’s footballer of the year again. For some experts, he is even the favorite for the 2022 World Footballer of the Year election. As expected, the Lions were voted best African team. The titles of best male coach, best young player and player to score the most beautiful goal of the past season also went to Senegal. Mané told Senegalese sports magazine Stadiums: »I want to win even more titles – why not this year as well.«