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Two and a half years after losing to Algeria in the African Cup final, Senegal have another chance to win the prestigious continental trophy on Sunday against Egypt. For coach Aliou Cissé, failures “belong to the past”.
“I don’t believe in the expression ‘Never two without three’.” On the eve of the final between Egypt and Senegal, the coach of the Teranga Lions refuses to consider that his third final of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), Sunday February 6, ends with a new defeat, 20 years after that lost as captain (2002) and three years after the one lost in Egypt as a coach.
“The sensations remain the same. And as it is customary to say: the finals are not played, they are won”, assured Aliou Cissé with confidence during the traditional pre-match press conference. “We have to be able to manage our emotions. We lost two finals. The experience is that everything is played on details, micro-details. These are the details that we worked on. All that belongs to the past, we have another group. We have a better squad than in 2002 and 2019.”
Confidence and humility. This is the watchword for the Lions of Teranga before the crucial match against Egypt. Confidence, because Aliou Cissé does not want his men to procrastinate on a “Senegalese curse” after two lost finals. Humility, because arriving with an excess of confidence is never good.
“It will be a difficult match like all the matches we have had to play. We have worked hard to beat the teams in form of this CAN”, explained the coach, paying tribute to Cape Verde, Guinea Equatorial and Burkina Faso, who fell to Senegal in the knockout matches.
Aliou Cisse. ”We fought for over a month to be where we are today. We are very excited to be able to play this second consecutive final,” he said at a press conference the day before the match. The… See more
— Liberation Senegal online (@SenegalLibe10) February 5, 2022
Egypt, a team with character
Even if these three teams are part of the revelations of the CAN, Egypt has a much more impressive list of hunts. She released more than one cador: the Ivory Coast (0-0, tab 4-5), the Morocco (1-2) and finally the host country, Cameroon (0-0, tab 1-3).
“We know the Egyptian team. A team with character and its philosophy. [Avec leurs joueurs évoluant dans les clubs égyptiens du Zamalek et d’Al Ahly], they know the realities of the continent. They have a lot of experience. But the matches follow each other but are not alike. It’s up to us to focus on our subject and not on our opponent”, explained Aliou Cissé.
For the coach of the Teranga Lions and his captain Kalidou Koulibaly, it would be futile to focus entirely on Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian superstar. “More than an anti-Salah plan, it is his influence on the team that must be limited. He can make a difference at any time. We must not put all our attention on Salah. It is collectively that we will manage to play against them”, analyzes the captain of Senegal.
Senegal can be optimistic. On paper, with one more rest day and three less contested extensions, he should have the advantage of freshness. Not for Aliou Cissé: “We obviously bet on recovery. But it would be pointless to bet on that. You would be wrong to think that Egypt will be weakened. I say it again: a final is won.”
“A matter of life or death”
“For us tomorrow is a matter of life or death against the defending runner-up,” confirmed Mohammad Salah at Egypt’s press conference a few hours later. “If we are tired, we have to think of the people behind us in Egypt. If we have to last 120 minutes, we will do it. If we have to last 360, we will do it.”
“In the last three matches, we knew they were finals before the hour. The key is to play as usual and a little more than usual”, explains the Liverpool striker.
For the Egyptians, it would also be a question of not gambling too much. Because two years before Senegal’s lost final, it was they who, in 2017, found themselves in the unfortunate place of dolphin by losing against Cameroon.