The moments that defined African football in 2022

This was a year of record-breaking achievements and unprecedented feats in the world of African football, but which of the many magical moments and landmarks of the past 12 months will be remembered in the years to come?

Senegal finally conquer the continent

The year began with the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, which concluded with Senegal finally getting their hands on the continent's grandest prize after a thrilling penalty shootout victory over Egypt.

Sadio Mane converted the decisive penalty to deny long-term teammate Mohamed Salah as Senegal added their name to the illustrious list of AFCON winners after numerous false starts and missed opportunities over the years.

They were the most prominent African footballing team never to have won the big one -- having fallen short in the 2002 final -- and became the latest first-time winner since Zambia in 2012.

The celebrations that greeted Senegal's return to Dakar made for a remarkable and raucous homecoming, and each member of the squad was rewarded by President Macky Sall with land, an $US87,000 bonus, and the prestigious 'Order of the Lion'.

Their triumph was a glorious conclusion to a troubled tournament marred by farcical refereeing, COVID-19 controversies, and, of course, the tragic stampede at Stade d'Olembe.

Another African stadium disaster

The 2022 Africa Cup of Nations saw Stade d'Olembe the latest site of tragedy, after Accra, Port Said, Ellis Park, and many others.

Eight people died and a further 38 were injured in a stampede ahead of Cameroon's Round-of-16 match against Comoros Islands, with Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Dr Patrice Motsepe later acknowledging that a locked gate and supporters arriving at the match without tickets were contributing causes to the fatal incident.

Motsepe vowed after the disaster that Olembe would be the last in a litany of such catastrophes, although a lack of transparency about CAF's decision-making regarding infrastructure during the tournament -- specifically reinstating Olembe as the venue for the final -- was inauspicious.

The event represented the first major challenge of Motsepe's tenure as CAF boss -- he was elected in March 2021 -- although concerns are brewing about the organisation's independence and financial outlook so perhaps we can expect more challenges on the horizon for the South African tycoon.

Africa awaits the Super League

CAF's decision to launch the African Super League in 2023 will surely become the defining act -- for better or worse -- of Motsepe's tenure.

Unbowed by the near-universal criticism that met the announcement of a European breakaway league, and visibly encouraged by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, CAF gleefully announced that a new pan-continental competition would launch in Aug. 2023 with the intention of revolutionising the sport in Africa.

There's undoubtedly considerable untapped potential in African club football, but CAF's relative lack of transparency about the mechanics of the Super League, uncertainty about the consequences for domestic leagues, apparent absence of canvassing of local stakeholders, and fears that it might kill competitiveness, all raise serious questions about who exactly the initiative is designed to benefit.

Until CAF presents a clear explanation of where funding for the tournament will come from, and explain how it will navigate issues such as player welfare, expect scepticism towards the new project to persist.

Banyana: South Africa's pioneers

After the 2020 Women's Africa Cup of Nations was cancelled due to coronavirus, African women's football returned -- belatedly -- to centre stage in July, when the continent's top teams competed in the expanded 20-team tournament in Morocco.

The tournament proved to be a fantastic showcase for Africa's top talents, with the likes of Ghizlane Chebbak, Rasheedat Ajibade and Andile Dlamini reaffirming their class while newer talents such as Hildah Magaia, Sanaa Mssoudy and Linda Motlhalo offered a glimpse of an exciting future for the continental game.

Nigeria's shootout defeat by Morocco was a memorable moment, as was South Africa's ultimate victory, as Banyana at last got their hands on the title after falling short in five previous finals.

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Algeria implode

It's become easy to forget just how imperious Algeria looked at the start of 2022.

Until their AFCON defeat by Equatorial Guinea, the Fennecs had gone 35 matches unbeaten -- an all-time African record for consecutive international matches.

They had last lost a game in Nov. 2018, their phenomenal run including victory at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt, and qualification for the 2022 tournament.

At the time, only Italy, between 2018 and 2021, had bettered Algeria's record, and Djamel Belmadi's side were the hot favourites to retain their crown in Cameroon.

Instead, we got one of the worst AFCON title defences ever: they were held by lowly Sierra Leone then defeated by Equatorial Guinea as the reigning champions were well and truly brought down to earth.

They were then thoroughly outplayed by Ivory Coast in their final group game, with Riyad Mahrez missing a penalty en route to a humiliating first-round exit.

If redemption was meant to be found in the World Cup playoffs, there was to be none.

Algeria defeated Cameroon in Yaounde and then took an 118th-minute aggregate lead in the return leg in Blida, but the Fennecs succumbed to a 124th-minute winner from Karl Toko Ekambi to suffer their first competitive defeat at the Mustapha Tchaker Stadium and ultimately to miss out on Qatar.

Despite winning the 2021 Arab Cup, there had perhaps been warning signs -- Belmadi had struggled to renovate an aging squad -- but still the utter implosion of arguably Algeria's greatest ever side between January and March was absolutely extraordinary.

Salah misses Qatar

Salah, surely still recovering from the heartache of AFCON final failure, endured further disappointment in Dakar when his missed penalty in the shootout after a 1-1 aggregate draw against Senegal sent the Teranga Lions on their way to Qatar at the Pharaohs' expense.

The Liverpool talisman had to endure lasers being shone in his eyes by the home supporters -- one of the most striking images of the year -- as Senegal fans looked to give Egypt a taste of their own medicine after their players had been subject to a similar treatment in Cairo.

The Egypt Football Association made a formal complaint but that didn't change Salah's World Cup fortunes, and the then-29-year-old's international legacy continued to unravel during a miserable two months.

The forward was denied the chance to make an impact on the 2018 tournament in Russia, after being injured by Sergio Ramos in the preceding UEFA Champions League final, and the 2022 edition should have represented another opportunity for Salah, in his prime at 30, to make his mark on the biggest tournament in the world game.

He'll turn 34 during the 2026 edition, and, while Egypt may still qualify, the Liverpool great's failure in the playoff against Senegal surely represented his final opportunity to truly leave a lasting legacy on the grandest stage.

Salah becomes the latest African great -- after the likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and George Weah -- to never make a genuine impression at the World Cup.

... and so does Sadio

Less than nine months after Mane's former Liverpool colleague Salah had endured World Cup heartbreak, it was to be the Senegal superstar's turn.

The challenge that felled Mane in Bayern Munich 's 6-1 victory over Werder Bremen in the German Bundesliga appeared innocuous, but one sensed -- as the 30-year-old sat on the turf with his head in his hands -- that it would have dire consequences for his World Cup aspirations.

There were initial hopes that the injury wasn't too serious, but they were then downgraded to fainter aspirations that he might be able to return for the latter stages of the competition.

Ultimately, the team doctor confirmed that Mane required surgery, and any hopes of him being able to grace a World Cup in his prime were dashed.

It was a devastating blow for the forward, who had finished second in the year's Ballon d'Or ranking, and for Senegal, who were entering the competition as Africa's champions and held genuine hopes of a deep run in the tournament after a straightforward group draw.

Senegal ultimately progressed to the knockout stage with six points, but defeats by the Netherlands then England led to a Round-of-16 exit.

We'll never know if things would have been different for Senegal had Mane been fit -- never before had conditions been better for an African great to thrive at the tournament -- but he, even more than Salah, was denied a golden opportunity.

Salima Mukansanga

Few in African football circles had heard of Salima Mukansanga at the end of 2021, yet 2022 ends with her being named in the BBC's 100 Women of the Year list, having achieved some outstanding firsts over the past 12 months.

The Rwandan official, 34, became the first woman to referee a senior man's AFCON game when she took charge of Zimbabwe's group stage game with Guinea, and she was then part of the three-woman referee team that oversaw France's Group D match against Australia at the World Cup.

Qatar 2022 marked the first time in the 92-year history of the tournament that women featured among the officials, with Mukansanga, who trained as a midwife before following her umpiring dreams, the only African woman selected.

Africa makes history in Qatar

The continent's five contenders had mixed expectations ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, with Mane's injury prompting revised forecasts while Senegal, and each of the other four appearing to have significant reasons for hesitancy.

Ultimately, match for match, African teams held their own in the group stage better than ever before.

The continent's sides had combined to win three group stage matches in each of the six previous tournaments; this year, African teams won a combined seven matches in the group stage, with each of the five qualifiers winning at least one match each.

Senegal and Morocco alone advanced to the Round of 16, but the opening-round results represented an unprecedented improvement for African teams, even if the Teranga Lions were fortunate to have faced hosts Qatar, and Tunisia and Cameroon benefited from playing second-string France and Brazil teams respectively.

Morocco break the glass ceiling

Morocco provided Africa's World Cup highlight, with the Atlas Lions becoming the first side from the continent to reach the semifinals.

On the way, they defeated European giants Belgium, Spain and Portugal, eliminating Cristiano Ronaldo in the process, and became the first African side to win a penalty shootout at the tournament.

Their run was all the more impressive considering head coach Walid Regragui was appointed only in August; he refined the team's superb organisation and defensive structure to forge a side that was not beaten by an opposition player until the semifinal defeat by France.

Theirs was the defining sporting success story of the year for the Arab and Muslim worlds, the Maghreb, and for African football.