By Emmanuel Yaw Nkansah
It was almost an inevitable reality, a predestined outcome, a result that was meant to be and would not be denied by any obstacles, a triumph written in the stars. Following in the footsteps of their African Cup of Nations and African Nations Championship-winning seniors, the Young Teranga Cubs of Senegal cruised to a comfortable win over Gambia in the final of the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations to claim their first-ever title and also make it a trifecta of continental football trophies for Senegal in two years.
Gambia tried their best to make something happen, but history repeated itself as they succumbed to defeat at the hands of their Francophone neighbors in yet another final. Some things are just inevitable.
The stadium was filled with colorfully dressed fans on one side and CAF executives, including President Motsepe, on the other, as the Scorpions of Gambia and the Cubs of Senegal were both welcomed. In the minds of the future stars who lined up for the national anthems of their countries, the could write a beautiful story with the trophy back home. However, standing in the way of these neighbouring countries the uncertainty of what 90 minutes presents. Senegal started the game making repeated forays into the Gambian half in search of an opener. Six minutes after the game started the direct attacking play of Senegal yielded results when the Gambian defense failed to deal with a cross from Pape Diallo which Souleymane Faye took full advantage of to head the ball into the net and give Senegal an early lead.
It was not a one-sided affair, however, as the Gambians controlled the lion’s share of ball possession, but resilient and effective defense from the Senegalese meant that the possession dominance of the Gambians was rendered useless. Pa Ebou Dampha pulled of an impressive pair of saves to keep the score at 1-0 in the 28th minute when he first parried a long-range strike from Lamine Camara into the path of Souleymane Faye, and proceeded to deny the Senegalese forward his second of the game with another impressive stop.
The Young Scorpions of Gambia came roaring out of the blocks in the second half determined to level the scores and possibly take the lead, but Senegal’s defense proved too tough. The Gambian resurgence was quickly killed off by Senegal as Mamadou Camara rose high to head home from a corner to extend the Young Teranga Cubs’ lead. Perhaps Senegal could have and should have scored more but their dominant performance ensured that they were able to prevent Gambia from even mustering a single shot on target enroute to securing a comfortable 2-0 victory.
After three previous unsuccessful final attempts in 2015, 2017, and 2019, the fourth time proved to be the charm as Senegal finally claimed their first Africa U-20 Cup of Nations crown, and Malick Daf’s charges will definitely relish this triumph. Commiserations to Gambia, it was a good run to the final, the highlight of which probably would be their semifinal triumph over Nigeria. Unfortunately, just as it happened at the Cheikha Ould Boidiya Stadium in Nouakchott, Mauritania when they fell to defeat against Senegal in the final of the WAFU Zone A tournament, history repeated itself in Cairo.
Looking back on the sheer dominance of their run-up to the final, it is difficult to think of any team other than Senegal coming out on top in this year’s tournament; Comfortably winning all their matches and not conceding a single goal throughout the tournament while comfortably beating pre-tournament favorites enroute to the title, Senegal definitely are worthy champions.