AFCON Can Sadio Mané fire Senegal to the top?

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Alexis Billebault
Posted on Friday, 28 January 2022 16:49

Cameroon African Cup Soccer
Senegal's captain Sadio Mane, controls the ball during the African Cup of Nations 2022 group B soccer match between Senegal and Guinea at the Omnisport Stadium in Bafoussam, Cameroon, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)/

Senegal's squad is slowly but surely making their way to the last four of the 2021 AFCON African Cup of Nations. They will first have to beat the surprisingly tough Equatorial Guinea in the quarter finals in Yaounde on Sunday 30 January.

Senegal are not the only quarter-finalists to have caused more yawns than thrills to those who follow the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations closely.

Egypt are at least as boring to watch, and Equatorial Guinea, the Lions of the Teranga’s next opponent, do not embody the idea of joyful, attacking football.

But the difference between Egypt and Senegal on the one hand and Equatorial Guinea on the other is huge: the first two are big names in African football

Ndour: “We expect more”

Senegal has players from the best European clubs among its internationals in Cameroon:

Edouard Mendy plays for Chelsea, Bouna Sarr for Bayern Munich, Kalidou Koulibaly for Napoli, Abdou Diallo and Idrissa Gueye for Paris-SG, Fodé Ballo-Touré for AC Milan and Pape Gueye and Bamba Dieng are based in Marseille.

Despite the squad strength, the Lions suffered in the first round, only squeaking through to the next round thanks to a last minute penalty by Sadio Mané against Zimbabwe (1-0).

The matches against Guinea (0-0) and Malawi (0-0) have prompted questions from Senegalese fans.

For example, Hassane Ndour, vice-champion of Africa in 2002 and quarter-finalist of the World Cup the same year. “We expect more in terms of quality of play, with the world-class players in the squad. The first round was difficult. The coach (Aliou Cisse) has been criticised for a few months now. But he has the results for him and that’s the main thing.

The victory over Cape Verde in the round of 16 (2-0), against an opponent who admittedly finished the game with nine against eleven, has mitigated the poor impression left in the first round.

It was a very good game,” he said, “but it was not perfect,” says Ndour.

“We couldn’t be satisfied with what we saw in the first round, despite qualifying,” said Ferdinand Coly, another member of the historic 2002 team. “I think the criticism stung the players and the technical staff. There was a reaction and Senegal showed something else. Here in Senegal, people expect something, obviously the title, even if they don’t dare to say it. They are waiting, but if the team eliminates Equatorial Guinea, this ambition will take a little more shape.”

Mané at full tilt can make the difference

Sadio Mané is obviously considered the strongest link in this selection, even if, as Coly reminds us, “he can’t do everything alone. The Liverpool attacking midfielder scored another goal against Cape Verde and his performance will determine how long the Lions of Teranga stay in Cameroon.

“He has shown that he is involved, that the team can count on him. The better Mané performs, the stronger Senegal will be. And with knockout matches, which Mané, but also the players who play in big European clubs are used to, this experience will help Senegal”, says Coly.

“The more Mané performs, the stronger Senegal will be, and with knockout matches, which Mané, but also players who play for big European clubs, are used to, this experience of high-level matches will be very important, starting on Sunday,” Ndour says.

Mané, who suffered a head injury in the match against Cape Verde, has returned to training, although there have been calls in England for him to be excused from the quarter-finals.

This should not be the case, as the player and the medical staff have given the all clear. If he qualifies, Senegal will face the winner of Burkina Faso-Tunisia in the semi-final on 2 February in Yaoundé.

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