CAIRO (Reuters) – Benin woke up on Saturday still pinching themselves after an extraordinary win at the Africa Cup of Nations as they rode their luck to eliminate highly fancied Morocco on penalties in the last 16.
“We dream of victories every day and I believe we can continue this beautiful dream,” said coach Michel Dussuyer after the small west African nation won 4-1 on penalties after holding Morocco to a 1-1 draw following extra time on Friday.
Benin achieved success despite conceding a last gasp penalty after the end of 90 minutes, which Morocco missed, and then playing most of the extra time period down to 10 men.
“I’m very proud of my team. We had a difficult challenge. Morocco are a very strong team but we prepared well mentally and luck was on our side,” added the journeyman French coach, in charge of a motley collection of players including one from Yeovil Town in League Two.
“Playing with a man less was difficult, and we will try to make amends for the absence of Khaled Adenon, who will miss next game.”
“This is the greatest achievement in the history of Benin football,” added veteran striker Mikael Pote, who was in the squad when Benin last competed at the same tournament in Angola nine years ago.
“We’ve come down to earth a little even if the emotion is still high. What we did was historic, it was beautiful,” added the 34-year-old, who played in Turkey’s second division last season.
“We showed that we were really a group. We know that in terms of quality, we do not have the best team. But our solidarity, the human relationships, as well as our confidence, have proven to be very important things.”
One of the more relieved at the victory was captain Stephane Sessegnon whose tired-looking tackle in the fourth minute of stoppage time handed Morocco a chance to secure a come-from-behind 2-1 win before extra time.
The clumsy challenge was such an obvious penalty none of the Benin players disputed the decision but Hakim Ziyech missed the chance to win the game for Morocco.
“I almost did not play in this Cup of Nations because I had a long club season. But I was convinced that we could succeed,” said the 35-year-old former Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion midfielder.
“It’s true that we did not expect to go to the quarter-finals. On the other hand, we were convinced that this tournament would allow us to show what we can do.”
Benin, who had only squeezed into the knockout stage after drawing all three of their group games, are up against Senegal in Wednesday’s quarter-final which Dussuyer suggested was winnable too.
“I try to teach my players a winning philosophy and we can still go further,” he said.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)