Benin departed the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday without winning a game but will return home as heroes after elimination in the quarterfinals by much-fancied Senegal.
They created one of the great Cup of Nations upsets by knocking out Morocco in the last 16, albeit in a penalty shootout, and kept Senegal at bay for about 70 minutes in the last-eight clash before succumbing to Idrissa Gueye’s goal.
“We have mixed feelings because we feel we could have reached the semifinals,” Benin striker Steve Mounie said.
“We are proud on the one hand but on the other, we thought we could have gone further.”
Benin were competing at their fourth Cup of Nations tournament, having lost eight of nine matches at the previous three in 2004, 2006 and 2010, drawing the other.
That record meant they were not given much chance in a strong group alongside holders Cameroon and perennial contenders Ghana.
But they held both heavyweights and Guinea Bissau to draw, amassing three points to sneak through as one of the best third-place finishers, before sending shockwaves through the competition as they rode their luck to force an extra time stalemate with Morocco, another of the favourites, and advance on penalties.
It was a triumph that set off fevered celebrations in the small West African country where sporting success has previously been unknown.