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Sporting retrospect: Moroccan brilliance caps Africa’s exceptional year

From Senegal's historic win at the African Cup of Nations (AfCON) to Morocco's unprecedented qualification to the World Cup semifinals…

From Senegal’s historic win at the African Cup of Nations (AfCON) to Morocco’s unprecedented qualification to the World Cup semifinals in Qatar and the two Grand Slam tennis finals of Tunisian Ons Jabeur, we look back at the highs of African remarkable year in sport. By Ibrahima Dione

Often cited as one of the favorites for the African Cup of Nations football tournament, Senegal had been eyeing the continental title since 1965. 

On the evening of February 6, the diligence of the Lions, pitted against the Pharaohs of Egypt in the final, finally saw them crowned champions for the very first time.

But what a nerve-racking final it was! 

Sadio Mane missed a penalty kick as early as the 7th minute. Egypt, clearly not having the best team like those of its glorious past, thought an 8th star would be in the bag when the penalty shootout began, especially after beating Cote d’Ivoire in the round of 16 and Cameroon in the semi-final.

Bouna Sarr’s miss in front of the impressive goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal also known as “Gabaski” was erased by Edouard Mendy’s save on Mohanad Mostafa Lasheen’s attempt. 

When the Senegalese keeper was earlier beaten by Mohamed Abdelmonem’s shot, his post miraculously saved him. 

Mane, in the position fifth penalty taker for Senegal, converted his spot kick to send his country to the summit of African football.

During the AfCON tournament, played in the middle of the season, eight people, including a child and two women, died on January 24 in a crush at the entrance of the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, on the sidelines of the round of 16 match between Cameroon and the Comoro Islands. 

Fifty people were also injured.

In the women’s game, South Africa also broke the curse

After losing five finals (1995, 2000, 2008, 2012, 2018), the Banyana Banyana won for the first time in their history the African Women’s Cup of Nations by beating host country, Morocco 2 to 1.

Two goals by striker Hildah Magaia (63′ and 71′) were enough to bring happiness to South Africa in the stadium of Prince Moulay Abdellah of Rabat filled as an egg (45.000 spectators). Morocco’s Rosella Ayane reduced the deficit in the 80th minute but it was not enough to stop the Southern Africans from lifting their maiden trophy.

In addition to the finalists, Zambia and Nigeria will hoist the flag of the continent at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand from 20 July to 20 August 2023. 

Besides, Senegal defeated Tunisia (0-0 AET, and 4-2 on penalties) and booked their ticket for the playoffs scheduled in Oceania from 17 to 23 February 2023. 

The Lionesses can therefore take one of the last three places at stake.

Sadio Mane, a little more in the legend

On October 17, the Senegalese international came second in the Ballon d’Or category, behind Karim Benzema. 

Only George Weah, winner of the famous individual trophy in 1995, did better in Africa.

To achieve this high ranking, Mane also won with Liverpool the English Cup and the League Cup, finished 2nd in the Premier League and was a finalist in the European Champions League. 

In these competitions, he scored 23 goals for the Reds.

At the Theatre du Chatelet, in Paris, France, where the Ballon d’Or ceremony was held, the player who trained at the Academie Generation Foot, on the outskirts of Dakar, stepped up to the podium to receive the first ever Socrates Award for his societal and charitable works.

In his native village of Bambaly, located in the south of Senegal, the current Bayern Munich player has built a hospital, a high school and a mosque using his own funds. With his partners, Mane has also equipped the village, which he has put on the world map, with a gas station and a 4G antenna.

AfCON 2025 withdrawn from Guinea

In 2014, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) awarded the organization of the 2025 AfCON to Guinea. Eight years later, the body chaired by Patrice Motsepe of South Africa has realized that this was a mistake:

 “In the current state, the infrastructure and equipment are not suitable or ready,” said Motsepe, the successor of Madagascar’s Ahmad Ahmad as CAF president. 

This came as no surprise to observers, since almost nothing has changed in a country ruled by a junta after the coup which overthrew Alpha Conde in September 2021.

A call for applications has been launched by CAF to find a new host country. 

Algeria is officially a candidate, while South Africa, Morocco, Zambia, or Nigeria and Benin (as co-hosts,) are also interested according to the media. In any case, the announcement of Guinea’s replacement is scheduled for February 10, 2023.

World Cup 2022: Morocco makes history

It is the sensation of this end of the calendar year. The Atlas Lions, not expected to play a starring role in Qatar, dominated their group in the first round with a draw against Croatia (0-0) and two wins against Belgium (0-2) and Canada (1-2). In the knockout phase, Morocco defeated Spain (0-0, TAB 3-0), Portugal (1-0), before bowing to France (2-0) and Croatia (2-1) in the classification match.

Coach Walid Regragui’s charges fell in the semi-final. 

Never has a team from Africa reached this level of the competition. Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) had all failed to reach the last four after succumbing to England, Turkey and Uruguay, respectively.

As a result, the Atlas Lions jumped in the FIFA rankings released last Thursday, moving from 22nd to 11th place. 

At the African level, they overtook Senegal, which was at the top since November 2018.

In Doha, the defending African champions also reached the second round. However, without Sadio Mane, who was out with a fibula injury sustained at club level, captain Kalidou Koulibaly and his teammates fell to England’s Three Lions in the round of 16 (3-0).

The Cameroonians, Tunisians and Ghanaians were all out after the first round. However, they defeated Brazil, France (1-0) and South Korea (2-3). This is the one and only time in history that all five representatives of Africa at a World Cup registered at least one win in the tournament.

Ons Jabeur’s indelible mark

Active in the professional tennis circuit since 2010, the Tunisian player this year reached two Grand Slam finals, a feat never managed an African until she buck this trend. On July 9, Jabeur lost in the Wimbledon final against the Kazakh Elena Rybakina by three sets (3-6, 6-2, 6-2).

Two months later, the native of Ksar Hellal, in the east of Tunisia contested the final of the US Open. This time, it was the Polish Iga Swiatek who caused heartache (6-2, 7-6) to the 28-year-old athlete who was very early introduced to tennis by his mother.

Despite these two setbacks, Ons Jabeur is currently ranked 2nd in the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) with 5,055 points. She is looking forward to working on her game again.

“It took me a while to win my first WTA title, so I think it will take me a while to win a major too. The most important thing is to learn from the lost finals. I’m not going to give up. I’m sure I’ll play more finals and I know I’ll do better” she said.

Athletics: Kenyans as marathon kings

The Kenyans have won all six major events on the world calendar. An exceptional performance! On March 6, in Tokyo (Japan), Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line in 2h02’40”. In Boston, USA, on April 18, Evans Chebet did it in 2h06”51”. Eliud Kipchoge, again with a time of 2:01:09, won the marathon held on September 25 in Berlin, Germany.

Amos Kipruto dominated the London, England marathon on October 2, running the course in 2:04:39. Seven days later, another Kipruto, named Benson, won in Chicago with a time of 2:04:24. Evans Chebet won the double on November 6, in New York, in 2h08’41”.

During the 18th World Athletics Championships, held from July 15 to 24 in Eugene, USA, Africa won 28 medals (9 gold, 12 silver and 7 bronze). 

With a total of ten medals, Ethiopia followed Uncle Sam in the final ranking of nations. Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Morocco, Algeria and Burkina Faso also won medals for the continent.

In these championships, Tobi Amusan hit hard by setting a new world record in the 100 meter hurdles. 

In the semi-finals, the Nigerian clocked 12’12”. She improved her mark in the final (12’06”), but there was no certification due to a wind in the back that was too favorable (2.5 meters per second). 

The previous world record was held by American Kendra Harrison, who ran a 100-meter hurdle in 2016 in 12’20”.

During the women’s and men’s marathons, Ethiopians Goytom Gebrelase (2h18’11”) and Tarmirat Tola (2h05’36”) led and achieved new records of the World Athletics Championships.

Cycling: Tour du Faso cancelled

The 34th edition of the race could not be held from November 11 to 20. Since the creation of the Tour du Faso in 1987, this is the third time this has happened. If in 2014 and 2020, Ebola and the coronavirus prompted the organizers to suspend it, the reason may have been quite different this year.

The precarious security situation in the country thanks to the activities of jihadist movements forced the Burkinabe Cycling Federation to cancel the event. The German rider Daniel Bichlmann was the fastest in 2021 before the Moroccan Oussama Khafi and the Burkinabe Souleymane Koné.

Women’s handball: Angola confirms supremacy

The Pearls have once again shone on the continental scene. They laid their hands on the African Women’s Handball Cup of Nations for the 15th time since 1989. The 12th triumph in the last 13 editions saw Angola taking on Cameroon in the final (29-19), which took place in the Dakar Arena at Diamniadio, Senegal.

At home, the Lionesses came close to the feat in the semi-finals against the future champions of Africa (21-24, after extra time). 

Stunned, the teammates of the sparkling center-half Soukeina Sagna did not know how to regroup against Congo (20-19 loss) in the match for third place. 

However all that seemed to matter at the last round of matches was that all the teams that made it to the last four will be at the World Cup to be jointly hosted by Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 2023.

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