By Sedara Philip
Mamadou Sawane headed home the winning goal seven minutes from time as Senegal scored twice in four minutes to come from a goal down and beat Morocco 2-1 to clinch their first ever TotalEnergies U17 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in a dramatic finale at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers.
Skipper Abdelhamid Ait Boudlal had given Morocco a 14th minute lead, one they kept until the 79th minute when Serigne Falou Diouf scored a VAR awarded penalty.
Sawane towered the entire defense to head home four minutes later, completing the hard-earned turnaround for the Teranga Cubs.
Senegal has now won a third consecutive continental title within four months, their team of local based players having won the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) title in February at the same venue of their conquest on Friday, while they also won the U20 AFCON title in Egypt in March.
Their senior national team began the continental dominance last February when they clinched the AFCON 2021 crown then continuing with an AFCON Beach Soccer title later in the year.
Heading into the Friday night’s duel, both teams were in unfamiliar territory, playing their first ever final, but it was Morocco who would go ahead first.
Skipper Ait Boudlal peeled away from his markers before beating the keeper to the ball to head home from an Abdel Hamid Maali corner.
It was a nerve calming goal for Said Chiba’s boys, as just 10 minutes before, the Senegalese had come close with skipper Amara Diouf having a freekick fly inches wide off target.
The game went into a full contest, with both sides battling for possession, but clear-cut chances at goal diminishing.
In the second half, Senegal started faster off the blocks, Mamadou Sadio shooting just over with only 45 seconds gone on the clock. On the other end, Morocco had a chance when Maali struck a shot from the edge of the box, but it flew wide.
Senegal’s turnaround came in the 76th minute when Moroccan skipper Ait Boudlal was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box. After visiting the pitch-side monitor, the referee awarded the penalty and Serigne tucked it home.
The goal inspired the Senegalese and they piled pressure on Morocco in the final 10 minutes of the game. Just four minutes later they had their reward when substitute Sawane stormed in to the edge of the six yard box to head home what would be the winner from a corner.
The goal punctured the entire Moroccan side, and even senior national team coach Walid Regragui who had flown in for the final, was dismayed, standing in anguish at his sitting spot in the VIP dias.
Senegal managed to see off the remaining minutes, plus six of added time, to win the title for the first time ever.