Senegal coach Aliou Cisse wants the September Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers postponed to allow the five countries representing the continent at the World Cup to play friendly matches.
Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia have qualified for the November 21-December 18 Qatar tournament and the African sides have only a September 19-27 window and one week before the World Cup kick-off to prepare.
The withdrawal of Zimbabwe from Group K means Morocco are free to play warm-up games in September, but the other four teams face two African qualifiers each.
Cameroon are scheduled to play Namibia, Ghana to meet Angola, Senegal to tackle Mozambique and Tunisia to face Libya home and away.
Speaking to the media in Dakar after Senegal snatched a last-gasp 1-0 victory over Rwanda on Tuesday, Cisse called on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to delay the next two rounds of qualifying.
“The best thing (to) help the five (African) selections that have qualified (for the World Cup) is to stop the (qualifiers) in September,” said the former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder-cum-defender.
“(This would) give the opportunity to the countries qualified (for the World Cup) to do their preparations. I think we can find a solution to postpone the (qualifiers) scheduled for September.”
The challenge for CAF will be to find new dates if they postpone the 44 September fixtures as there is only one other window, next March, before the June-July 2023 finals in the Ivory Coast.
CAF plan to stage matchdays five and six of Cup of Nations qualifying between March 20-28, with the finals set for June and July 2023.
What the Cairo-based body may consider is cancelling only the eight September matches involving the World Cup qualifiers and asking them to play catch-up during the World Cup window once eliminated.
African pundits are extremely pessimistic about the chances of the five, giving only Senegal, who face the Netherlands, Qatar and Ecuador in Group A, a realistic chance of reaching the second round.
– Algeria take control -Tunisia are in Group D with defending champions France, Denmark and Australia or Peru and Morocco in Group F beside Belgium, Canada and Croatia.
Cameroon face Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland in Group G and Ghana meet Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea in Group H.
Meanwhile, there were six Cup of Nations qualifiers on Wednesday and fallen African giants Algeria took control of Group F after an impressive 2-0 victory in Tanzania.
A clever free-kick drill late in the first half culminated in centre-back Ramy Bensebaini nodding the Desert Foxes ahead.
Tanzania rarely threatened to equalise before substitute Mohamed Amoura sealed success with a thunderous close-range shot a minute from time.
Algeria boasted a 35-match unbeaten record before the wheels came off this year in a Cup of Nations title defence and World Cup play-off.
After drawing with Sierra Leone in the African tournament, they fell to Equatorial Guinea and the Ivory Coast to make a stunning first-round exit having travelled to Cameroon as one of the title favourites.
Algeria then won away to Cameroon in a World Cup play-off only to concede late in extra time at home and lose on away goals.
The win in Tanzania, coupled with second seeds Uganda draw 1-1 at home to Niger, means the two-time African champions have a four-point lead after just two rounds.
Congo Brazzaville put a four-goal Group G mauling in Mali behind them by edging 2021-2022 Cup of Nations giant-killers the Gambia 1-0 in Brazzaville through an Antoine Makoumbou goal.
Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz says his team “will defend with 16 players” when they protect a 1-0 lead over Senegal on Tuesday in the second leg of an African World Cup play-off.
“What I mean by 16 players is that each one must make the effort of two players, not just one player,” said the Mozambique-born former Real Madrid manager and twice Manchester United assistant manager.
“We deservedly won the first leg against the best team in Africa and now we are going to Senegal to fight for every metre, every loose ball. Every Egyptian must double his efforts.”
A play-off that pits Liverpool stars Mohamed Salah of Egypt and Sadio Mane of Senegal against each other is a repeat of the recent Africa Cup of Nations final, which Senegal won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
Here, AFP Sport looks ahead to the second legs on Tuesday that will decide which five African teams go to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Senegal v Egypt
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse says he does not want to see supporters wearing suits in the recently completed Stade du Senegal near Dakar when they confront Egypt.
“We need more fanaticism when it comes to supporting our national team, like they do in Egypt and other north African countries,” he says.
“Those who wear suits to football matches must give their tickets to Senegalese supporters who wear football jerseys. We want to see only green, yellow and red (national flag colours) in the stands.”
The outcome could hinge on Egypt snatching an ‘away’ goal — if they do Senegal will face the mammoth task of scoring at least three times to qualify.
Nigeria v Ghana
New Ghana coach Otto Addo is optimistic that the Black Stars can reach the World Cup despite being held 0-0 at home by Nigeria in the first leg.
“The pressure if off us and on them,” he believes. “It was crucial that we did not conceded at home and any score draw in the return match takes us through.
“Our players recovered superbly from a terrible Cup of Nations campaign in January, matched Nigeria throughout the 90 minutes and created more scoring chances.”
Star Nigeria forward Victor Osimhen admits the pressure is on the Super Eagles, saying “this match is about much more than football — the nation is relying on us to triumph”.
Algeria v Cameroon
Cameroon coach Rigobert Song, who succeeded sacked Portuguese Toni Conceicao after the Cup of Nations hosts came third last month, says star forward Vincent Aboubakar should be fit to face Algeria.
The captain has been battling a heel problem and was taken off at half-time of the first leg in Douala, which Cameroon lost 1-0 with Islam Slimani nodding the match-winner off a late first-half free-kick.
“We are sure Vincent will be available,” said Song, hoping the skipper, and fellow attackers Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Karl Toko Ekambi, can turn the tables.
It is a tall order as the match is set for Blida, 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of Algiers, and the Stade Mustapha Tchaker is called the “slaughterhouse” because Algeria regularly win handsomely there.
Morocco v DR Congo
“Egypt rely heavily on Salah, Senegal on Mane and Algeria on (Riyad) Mahrez,” says Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic, “but Morocco rely on 11 players.”
The Bosnian coach was walking a tightrope by refusing to choose Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech and Ajax Amsterdam full-back Noussair Mazraoui after a quarter-finals exit from the recent Cup of Nations.
When Halilhodzic attended a recent Wydad Casablanca match, many in the crowd chanted support for Ziyech, who the coach considers a “disruptive influence”.
But after a poor start in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they conceded once and could have trailed by three goals, Morocco missed a penalty and then equalised to force a 1-1 draw.
Tunisia v Mali
Four crazy minutes in Bamako for Mali defender Moussa Sissako gave Tunisia a 1-0 first-leg lead and, with home advantage, the Carthage Eagles are expected to seal a sixth World Cup appearance.
Sissako conceded an own goal on 36 minutes and was then sent off for a last-defender foul on Seifeddine Jaziri, which automatically rules him out of the return match.
Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri refused to accept that his team are almost there, however, warning his team that “the return match will be even more difficult”.
Mali captain and defender Hamari Traore, a first-leg absentee due to a suspension, says “our players had sweat-soaked jerseys trying to stage a comeback last Friday. We have the means and will to succeed.”
Twenty years ago, Senegal’s golden generation of players, including ex-Liverpool star, El-Hadji Diouf, lost the Africa Cup of Nations crown to Cameroon. Aliou Cisse, who now coaches the team, missed the decisive kick in the penalty shootout as Cameroon won a second consecutive AFCON trophy in Mali.
Months later, the Teranga Lions bounced back from that heartbreaking defeat to stun France at the 2002 World Cup, beating the then-holders by a lone goal in their first game. Led by the iconic Bruno Metsu, they raced to the quarter-final of the Korea/Japan tournament but a ‘golden goal’ in the last eight saw them crash out to Turkey in their first World Cup outing. Cisse was the captain of that golden generation that took the world by storm in the early 2000s.
Despite being perennially tipped as favourites since then, the West African side had failed to win the continent’s most treasured football medal. In 2019, they fell to Algeria in the final, the closest they have gone since the defeat to Cameroon.
“All of that is in the past,” Cisse said about the twin final defeats ahead of Senegal’s final match against Egypt on Sunday. “We have a different squad that is even better than 2002 and better than 2019. We will try to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes as in these finals, and we are very excited to have the chance to put the past behind us.”
Born in Senegal’s southwestern town of Ziguinchor on March 24, 1976, Cisse’s family moved to France when he was nine. They lived in a Paris suburb called Champigny-sur-Marne. His childhood dream of playing for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) became a reality as he featured for the Parisians between 1998 and 2002. The player later wore the colours of English sides, Birmingham City and Portsmouth, featuring as a defensive midfielder and occasionally as a centre back. Unlike his days with the Teranga Lions, his club career never caught the limelight as he retired at Ligue 2’s Nîmes in 2009.
The former midfielder then delved into management and quickly worked for his badges before he got his big break as the assistant coach of the U-23 side between 2012 and 2013. He later became the head coach between 2013 and 2015. In 2015, he replaced Frenchman Alain Giresse as the Teranga Lions coach after they crashed out of that year’s AFCON at the group stages.
Saddled with the responsibility of building a formidable team after one of the lowest moments of Senegalese football, the bespectacled Cisse had his work cut out.
“I have a lot of ambition for Senegal, but it can mostly be summed up in one word: win and win again,” he said in a televised interview following his appointment.
Under his guidance, the Teranga Lions fortunes took a new twist. Apart from helping the team become the best African side in the FIFA ranking, Cisse set up a flourishing side which allowed star men, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Idrissa Gueye, Kalidou Koulibaly to play to their strengths. Aside from qualifying the team for the 2017 AFCON in grand style by winning all six qualifiers – a first in the country’s football history – he also led the Teranga Lions to the World Cup in 2018 to humble his critics.
In his first AFCON outing, Senegal were sent out in the quarter-final stage of the competition after a penalty shootout loss to eventual winners, Cameroon. At the 2018 World Cup, the second in the nation’s history, Cisse’s men were hard hit by ill-luck after they went out of the group stage on disciplinary grounds. Tied on the same points and goal difference with Japan, the Africans left the competition having gotten six yellow cards, two more than the Blue Samurai.
After the disappointment of Russia, Senegal set their sights on the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Like previous tournaments, they were one of the favourites and lived up to that tag when they reached the final of the competition. But for the second time, the star-studded Lions of Teranga were beaten by Algeria.
“The last time Senegal reached this point was in 2002. The experience of big matches, we want to be here more often. We’re getting closer to winning,” the distraught coach said after Algeria defeated them in the final in Egypt, the second time in that tournament. “The team has been making progress these past five years. A final is decided by fine margins and we deserved better tonight.”
Indeed, the Senegalese deserved better but started the 2021 campaign on a cautious note, playing what many tagged as “dirty football” as they gathered momentum in Cameroon. In the group stage, they managed just one goal (a Mane late penalty against Zimbabwe) in three games to top the chart. Injuries and COVID-19 also hit as they played their first few matches without key players like Chelsea’s Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly; midfielder, Nampalys Mendy, and gifted winger, Ismaila Sarr.
Heading into the knockout phase with five points, the 2002 runners-up defeated Cape Verde 2-0 before seeing off Equatorial Guinea in the next round of clashes. They, however, showed their strong title credentials and depth when they swept away Burkina Faso 3-1 in the semi-final with Cheikhou Kouyate of Crystal Palace and Sarr coming off the bench to score.
“We know we can do better, but we know we’re getting stronger,” Koulibaly said after the quarter-final win over Equatorial Guinea at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde. “I think that after the first and second games, or even the group games, nobody saw us there, but today we can be happy.”
‘We Waited Long’
In Senegal, the former midfielder is seen as more than a coach to the players. He was a fans’ favourite and was expected to deliver the nation’s first AFCON title. That wish materialised when former Southampton star, Mane, scored the decisive kick at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, leaving fans back home in an explosion of joy. A festive atmosphere erupted in the capital city as thousands of supporters trooped to the Independence Square, near the presidential palace, to celebrate the historic moment. Supporters were drowned in the sound of car horns, vuvuzelas, and firecrackers at the square. The Senegalese flag was hung from buildings, on vehicles, and on sidewalks.
Fans hugged each other amid bonfires outside the streets of Dakar and across the country.
“I’m happy. It’s the best day of my life,” a 25-year-old car washer, Modou Ba, said.
“We waited a long time. (The cup) is finally here. We really needed it,” an accountant, Seydou Nourou Diop, said after the final whistle.
President Macky Sall, who had declared a national public holiday hours after the win, had earlier praised the team for bringing pride to the nation.
“African champions. What a game! What a team! You did it. Beautiful moment of football, beautiful moment of communion and national pride. Congratulations to our heroes,” he tweeted on Sunday night.
He had also cancelled his travel plans to welcome the triumphant men who are billed to hit Dakar at 1300 GMT Monday.
For Cisse, the AFCON win is a dream come true. His former teammate, Salif Diao had quoted the coach as saying “If I don’t win it as a player, I will win it one day as a coach”. But beyond the craving for personal glory, Sunday’s victory is the ultimate gift for a football-mad nation that fought hard to land the elusive title.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said he “accepted the rules of the game” as the west Africans were eliminated from the World Cup due to a worse disciplinary record than their direct rivals for a place in the last 16.
The Teranga Lions required only a draw with Colombia in their final Group F game in Samara, but could also have squeezed through to the last 16 in the event of defeat depending on the result of the other group game between Japan and Poland.
When already-eliminated Poland stunned Japan 1-0 in Volgogrard and Senegal suffered a 1-0 defeat, it left Japan and Senegal with the same points and the same goals difference.
The third criteria used to separate teams in this instance is their disciplinary record. With six yellow cards in three group games, Senegal were eliminated because Japan had only been issued four, leaving Africa without a representative in the last 16.
“It’s the law of football,” said Cisse. “We didn’t qualify because we’ve earned more yellow cards, but I’m proud of my lads, they’ve worked hard for this tournament and I think we’ve showed we can have a bright future.”
Former Senegal international Cisse refused to play the blame game.
He said his players were aware of the rules but he had refused to tell them to adapt their game accordingly.
“It’s the rules of the game, they’ve bneen established by FIFA and we have to respect it, even though we would have liked to have been eliminated another way,” he said.
M’Baye Niang was the only Senegal player cautioned in a decisive 1-0 defeat to Colombia in Samara, where Barcelona defender Yerry Mina headed the south Americans’ winner on 77 minutes.
Cisse said he had not asked his players to change their game.
“I think the players knew all about it,” he said. “I’m not going to ask my players to go on the pitch and try to avoid being issued yellow cards. Football is a contact game.”
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse told star man Sadio Mane to step up at the World Cup even though the Liverpool forward got on the scoresheet in a thrilling 2-2 draw with Japan on Sunday.
Substitute Keisuke Honda equalised with 12 minutes left as Japan twice pegged back Senegal in a captivating stalemate at Yekaterinburg Arena that leaves Group H wide open.
All eyes will now be on the other group match between Poland and Colombia — defeat for either side will be the end of their tournament in Russia.
As it stands, Japan and Senegal have the advantage, with four points after two games.
Mane was the beneficiary of poor defending on 11 minutes when goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima made a mess of a shot, punching the ball into the lurking Liverpool star. It bounced back off his leg for his first World Cup goal.
But Japan were successful in keeping the 26-year-old more or less quiet after that and Cisse admitted that the Asian side deserved to win, even if they were twice behind.
“Of course we have regrets but we did not see a great Senegal team tonight compared to the previous match against Poland (a 2-1 victory),” Cisse said, adding that “frankly, we were not very good”.
“Despite that we were leading twice and what is annoying were the two goals (conceded). But group matches are played over three stages so we will hope for the best for the game against Colombia.”
Cisse, Senegal skipper in the country’s run to the quarter-finals in 2002, hopes that Mane can be the difference, on what promises to be a nerve-wracking final round of matches on Thursday.
“A player like Sadio Mane is a player with a lot of expectations and he is one of the players under the spotlight.
“He can do better, but today he was better than against Poland and he needs to do better against Colombia.”
Mane, fresh off the back of an exciting club season that took Liverpool to the Champions League final, felt the Africans deserved to win.
“Honestly we are all disappointed, there was a way to win and we did not do it,” said Mane, who was only a sporadic danger down Senegal’s left.
A win for either side would have more or less put them in the knockout rounds in a clash billed as the pace and power of Senegal against the tactical and technical nous of Japan, who took a gamble and replaced Vahid Halilhodzic with Akira Nishino as coach just weeks before the World Cup.
It appeared to pay off when the unfancied Asians stunned 10-man Colombia 2-1 in their opener, and on 34 minutes they were level with Senegal when Takashi Inui bent the ball wonderfully into the bottom corner.
On 71 minutes, soon after hitting the Senegal bar, Japan allowed a scuffed cross to go right across their goal and defender Moussa Wague arrived all alone at the far post to grab what looked like being an unlikely winner.
But Honda, the former AC Milan midfielder who had only been on the pitch six minutes, hit a deserved late equaliser to become the first Japanese to score at three different World Cups (2010, 2014 and 2018).
The 32-year-old is also now the top-scoring Asian player in World Cup history, netting four goals in nine appearances in the competition.
Nishino said he sent Honda on because Japan were going for the win and the Japan coach felt they did well to keep Mane at bay.
“It is very important to neutralise Mane but we did a pretty good job in dulling his threat, but what we were more worried about was the impact he has on other Senegal players.
“In the first half we let him and the others play a bit too freely, but overall for counter measures, I think we did pretty well.”