By Brian Homewood
CAIRO (Reuters) – Senegal coach Aliou Cisse has been battling to convince the media and public that his team are not favourites to win the Africa Cup of Nations and his players might have inadvertently done the job for him.
The Lions of Teranga certainly did not look like potential champions as they allowed themselves to be bullied by Algeria’s more physical approach during their 1-0 defeat on Thursday.
They must now beat Kenya in their final Group C game to qualify for the last 16 without having to rely on other results going their way.
In a tournament where many of their players ply their trade in the lower divisions of European leagues or are still based in Africa, Senegal are an exception.
The squad, entirely based in Europe, brims with talent and top-level experience, boasting players such as Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, Inter Milan’s Keita Balde and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, who is arguably one of the world’s top central defenders.
They also enjoy a stability rare in African football with coach Aliou Cisse, himself with wide European experience from his playing days, into his fifth year in charge.
Cisse had become exasperated at having to explain that Senegal, who have never won the competition before, were not favourites this time.
“They have talked about Senegal being favourites for years,” he said before the match.
“If I had the recipe for winning the tournament, I wouldn’t tell anyone what it was. To play at the Africa Cup of Nations is complicated, the conditions are difficult, the matches are tough… you have to be ready to suffer.
“This generation of 2019 is an extraordinary one with very good players, but that does not mean we are favourites. The favourites are the teams who have won the competition before.”
After Thursday’s defeat, Cisse blamed “details” and the absence of three regular starters — Marissa Gueye, Ismailia Sarr and Salif Sane.
He said he expected more of Mane who was neutralised by the aggressive Algerians.
“Of course Sadio Mane can do better,” he said. “In this match, we let our technical ability go to waste.
“We need to get ready for the match against Kenya which will not be a formality. This was a warning and we need to mobilise quickly. I have confident in the players and the team but the whole team has to raise their level.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)