Yaounde, Cameroon – In July 2019, Senegalese journalist Bamba Kasse saw his country’s football fans dejected, frustrated and disappointed at the Cairo International Stadium as their national team, Lions of Teranga, lost to Algeria in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final.
“Everyone was disappointed,” Kasse told Al Jazeera. “It was not a good game for Senegal because Algeria scored in the first five minutes, decided to close the game, and Senegal never came back.”
Two years on since Baghdad Bounedjah deflected that shot and condemned Senegal to a second AFCON final loss – the first being in 2002 against Cameroon – the West Africans have another chance as they face seven-time champions Egypt in the final on Sunday.
“It will be a very tough game. Egypt with Mo Salah and Senegal with Sadio Mane… it won’t be easy,” Kasse said.
“Egypt will be the favourites because of their experience of winning seven AFCON finals, but we Senegalese want to win.”
Ousmane Thioye, a Senegalese shop owner in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde, believes Mane will be unstoppable in the final.
“Inshallah [if God wills]!” he exclaimed. “Senegal will put a star in the crest of their jersey, and it will be Mane who will lead us. I have followed this competition, I have not seen any player that will stop him in what he wants to do.”
Asked whether he is wary of Salah, Thioye boastfully said: “We have a minister of defence called Kalidou Koulibaly [the Napoli defender]. He is always good in the defence, we are assured.”
Thioye is part of a group of 23 Senegalese nationals called “12eme Gainde” in Yaounde, rooting for their nation during the tournament.
“On Sunday, I will be in the stadium with my friends to push Senegal to victory,” he said.
For Egypt, just a few supporters showed up at the Olembe Stadium on Thursday when the Pharaohs eliminated hosts Cameroon in the semifinal.
A sizeable number of fans had reportedly landed in Yaounde on the day of the match but could not make it to the stadium.
Nadine and Mohamed were among the handful of Pharaohs supporters at Olembe Stadium, where most of those in attendance were supporting the home side.
“Against Senegal? It is 2-0 on Sunday,” Nadine said confidently. “We trust the work of Mohamed Salah. He will deliver on Sunday.”
Egypt’s wait for an eighth crown – the first since 2010 when they beat Ghana 1-0 in the final – is on Mohamed’s mind.
“I’m very happy we have reached the final,” Mohamed said. “We have waited for long since 2010 and I know we will have star number eight on Sunday.”
For hosts Cameroon, there has been absolute quiet in the capital since the semifinal defeat.
“We died with our weapons in our hands,” said Stephane Pico in the Olembe neighbourhood. “We had the possibility of winning that game in the first half because we had the opportunity to score but we didn’t.”
Pico said he is supporting Senegal on Sunday because he does not want Egypt to win an eighth AFCON title.
“If Egypt wins on Sunday, they will have eight AFCONs which will make it difficult for Cameroon [with five] to close the gap.”
But Alain Yakani, an Indomitable Lions supporter, said Cameroon did not have to triumph because it was the host nation and that despite their absence he will be at the stadium for the final.
“I will go to the stadium not to support any team but to watch the spectacle of the game because Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will be playing.”
The final at the Olembe Stadium will be the second game to be staged in the facility since eight people were killed and 38 injured in a crush
during Cameroon’s 2-1 victory over Comoros on January 24.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF), who had moved a quarter-final out of the stadium, cleared it for the Egypt-Cameroon semi-final by concluding “the Local Organising Committee and the Government of Cameroon having significantly increased security and resources at the Olembé Stadium, are confident that the safety and security of spectators and visitors will be assured”.
State broadcaster CRTV reported that “new entry routes” to the north of the stadium had been made following the stampede. More police officers have also been deployed on the roads leading to the stadium to control fans’ access.
As Senegal head into the final, Thioye has a wish for Coach Aliou Cisse, captain of the losing side in 2002 and coach in the 2019 final loss.
“I just want the players to play for him. I was initially a Cisse critic, but I respect him now. I want him to hand Senegal an AFCON title,” he said.