CAN 2021 begins this Sunday. Senegal, which starts the competition on Monday, will have to be solid to finally hope to lift the trophy of the African Cup of Nations.
At each African Cup of Nations (CAN), it's the same story: Senegal is always one of the favorites of the competition. But the "Lions of Téranga" have never yet lifted the trophy. And this is not for lack of having stars within its workforce. For this edition of the CAN, the Senegalese workforce is, on paper, prestigious. With Sadio Mané in the lead.
But before their entry into the running, this Monday against Zimbabwe, Aliou Cissé's players are already experiencing a first hard blow, with the detection of several cases of Covid-19. And not the least, according to sources close to the Senegalese selection: the Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy or the central defender of Naples Kalidou Koulibaly are indeed part of the list of infected players.
A first quack 24 hours before the entry into the running of the "Lions of Téranga". But Zimbabwe is a modest adversary, and optimism remains in Senegal.
However, for years Senegal seems to have fallen victim to a curse. Indeed, although first African team in the FIFA rankings, the Senegalese selection was unable to win a CAN, despite a final - lost - against Algeria in 2019. Senegal's FIFA ranking shows, however, a certain regularity in the results of the "Lions of Téranga".
It now remains to materialize this domination. During this somewhat special CAN, marked by a lack of preparation and a difficult health situation, will Sadio Mané and his teammates succeed in going to the end? With a substantial workforce, the Senegalese selection could be one of the main beneficiaries of the rules imposed by CAF.
Work on defense ... and the mind
To hope to win the tournament, Senegal will count on its stars, but also on a coach who has gained experience. Arrived in March 2015 on the bench of the Lions, Aliou Cissé is now a coach recognized for his work. The Senegalese Football Federation has placed all its confidence in him.
Cissé dreams, like his players, of putting an end to the status of “eternal loser” that has been given to him by the international sports press. In 2002, Senegal participated in its first CAN final and lost against Cameroon… on penalties. Suffice to say that this 2021 edition, which takes place in Cameroon, has an air of revenge.
To hope to go to the end, Senegal will have to continue their good streak. Most importantly, players will need to stay focused even against weaker teams. Because during the qualifiers of the CAN, the "Lions of Téranga" recorded several poor performances, in particular against Eswatini and Congo. And last November, the Senegalese could not do better than a draw in Togo.
The fault, according to observers, in a sometimes crumbly defense and a sometimes failing mind. The Senegalese can however count on several assets. The group has reached maturity, the players know each other well and the stars of the workforce are used to big events. Now remains to be achieved. And it begins with a victory in the first match of the "Lions de la Téranga", this Monday afternoon, against Zimbabwe.