Cameroon can’t halt us, Senegal vow
BY JOE APU
Sadio Mane of Senegal is no doubt one man that the Terenga Lions look up to lead the West African nation to her inaugural AFCON title since 1965 when the country made her first appearance.
Though, this is not the first time they are reaching the quarterfinal stage of the championship but the desire to win this time around is not in doubt.
Mane, has remained instrumental so far and he wants to take the battle all the way as Coach and former national team star Aliou Cisse is convinced Senegal will not commit the same mistakes of the past this time.
Ranked among the favourites when Gabon co-hosted the 2012 tournament, Senegal fell to Zambia, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Libya and made a humiliating early exit.
Three years later they returned to Equatorial Guinea and after beating Ghana, drew with South Africa and lost to Algeria to once again bow out after the first round.
“Perhaps we were overconfident in previous campaigns and believed the media hype about being among the favourites,” he told reporters in this remote city.
“I believe there is more humility within the squad now — a realisation that we are just one of many contenders to become African champions.
“We are good enough to go all the way and bring the trophy to Senegal for the first time, but many difficult matches lie ahead.”
Beating Tunisia 2-0 last Sunday through goals from Liverpool attacker Mane and Kara Mbodj within the first 30 minutes was a promising start for Cisse and his squad.
Only three of the eight first-round matches played so far across the four groups have produced victories and Senegal were the only side to win by more than one goal.
However, Mane acknowledged that Tunisia were wasteful and had a shot that possibly crossed the goal-line ruled out by the referee.
“We made a great start,” said the star who finished third behind winner Riyad Mahrez of Algeria and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon in the 2016 African Footballer of the Year poll.
“But we have won nothing yet. The history of this competition is littered with teams who achieved great results at the start only to be eliminated long before the final.
“It is crucial that we take this tournament one match at a time. Right now our focus is solely on Zimbabwe,who are a good team.”
Undoubtedly, Senegal have been the star attraction of AFCON 2017 to date with a series of excellent displays, so surely they will have too much firepower for the depleted but determined Cameroon.
Just before the AFCON 2017 Quarter Finals, the Lions recorded a pair of 2-0 wins over Tunisia and Zimbabwe in Group B before drawing 2-2 against a spirited Algeria side fighting for their survival in the competition, and so they have to be installed as the bookmakers’ favourites for not only this match but to lift the trophy on February 5.
First though they will have to see off the advances of Cameroon in today’s quarter final. The Indomitable Lions have done excellently well to qualify for the last eight despite the absence of some of their key players, and while their passage to the quarter-finals has been rather less smooth than Senegal’s, like their name suggests they will fight for their AFCON 2017 lives to the bitter end.
The beauty of winning your opening two matches 2-0 in a group phase is that you can rest players and give fringe squad members a run out in your third and final game. That’s exactly what Senegal did in resting the likes of Sadio Mane and Idrissa Gueye, and they still managed to grab a point from a decent Algeria side in their encounter. That tells you a lot about the Lions’ strength in depth.
Mane has been electrifying for Liverpool in club action this season, and it is always joyous to see a fantastic player bring their A-game to a major international competition like this. With Gueye and Cheikh Kouyate providing midfield security, Mane is free to express himself – and he has done so with relish, bagging two goals in as many appearances in AFCON 2017.
Cameroon will need to keep him quiet somehow, and despite conceding in their opening two Group A games they did at least manage to shut out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co in the 0-0 stalemate with Gabon.
The Indomitable Lions will be concerned that they only managed to fire one of their eight shots at goal on target, while Gabon – if they had been a bit sharper – may well have summoned a winner having put 50% of their eight shots on goal on target. We don’t expect Senegal to be so generous in front of goal….
Cameroon’s best hope of winning this game is somehow keeping a clean sheet and forcing the tie into extra time or penalties….the last time the Senegalese failed to score in 90 minutes was February 2016 – 12 games ago. Since then, they have scored two or more goals in 11/12 appearances, and so they have to be favoured here.
In tomorrow’s games, Ghana would have their hands full against a Congolese side that is populated by rugged home lads, most of whom play for top Congolese side TP Mazembe, while Egypt and Morocco will slug it out in a North African affair.
DR Congo may not have Euro based stars, but they have a team that play with a lot of understanding and cohesion.
DR Congo may turn out to be another Egypt that has always taken the tournament by storm with home lads. Should the Congolese shock Ghana tomorrow, then they could go all the way in the tournament.
The Egypt, Morocco clash would no doubt be the mother of all battles. Egypt are staging a return to the Nation’s Cup after missing out in the last three editions and they want todo so in style.
The Pharaohs go into the game against Morocco with a clean slate as they are yet to concede a goal. Their coach Hector Cupper said after the 1-0 win over Ghana in Port Gentil that they will fight with the last drop of their blood, even as he assured fans back home that Morocco won’t stop his side.
But the Pharaohs are facing a side that is being handled by a coach that knows how to navigate his way in AFCON and that is Harve Renard.
Renard before taking over Morocco’s Atlas Lions has achieved Nations Cup success with Côte d’Ivoire and Zambia. At the group stage, Renard literally sent defending champions, Côte d’Ivoire out as Morocco beat the Elephants by a lone goal. The coach may have achieved his modest dream of taking Morocco to the last eight, but like Oliver Twist, he wants more and he wouldn’t mind getting that more out of Egypt.
If there is a team to fear in the tournament at the moment, that team is Morocco as no one can rule out the Harve Renard factor.