Aliou Cisse will be participating in his second FIFA World Cup next year in Russia, not as a player in shorts and boots this time but as coach of Senegal.
The 41-year-old captained the Teranga Lions at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea where they pulled off a shock 1-0 win over defending champions France in their opening game played in Seoul.
Then coached by Frenchman Bruno Metsu, of blessed memory, Senegal reached the quarterfinals before bowing out following a lone goal defeat to Turkey after extra time.
It has since become a standard, back home, set for every new coach coming on board. Officials and fans have been expecting the team to repeat the 2002 experience, but the Lions only qualified to the World Cup this year, 15 years after their inspiring debut.
For Cisse, such expectation is understandable but not necessary.
“Every generation has their realities. We can look back at 2002 for inspiration but we must not necessarily measure our work with it. I believe I have a good team that is hungry for success and progress. And that is the group I am taking with me to Russia next year. We want to fight, we want to play,” he told ACLsports after the World Cup draw last week.
Senegal will share Group H with Colombia, Japan and Poland in the preliminary stage of the competition. Many pundits in Dakar (Senegal’s capital) were happy with the oppositions while some local newspapers tagged it as ‘Not a Group of Death’, but Cisse thinks otherwise.
“That is the big mistake we have been trying to stress since the draw. Who told you Japan is a small team? Who told you Colombia are pushovers. Even Brazil don’t want to meet Colombia. And Poland, they’ve got lots of players in the German Bundesliga. They are currently ranked 7th by Fifa, just below Spain 6th and above France 9th. Would you call such a team a small one?”
The four teams in the group emerged from different continents each and basically have a distinct style of play which could be a challenge for opponents. However, there is no cause for alarm for the Lions’ gaffer who believes modern football takes almost the same pattern.
“Generally, we already know the traditional play pattern of where these teams are emerging from. We know their DNA. However, modern football appears to be the same, with no big difference. We will prepare against each of these teams considering their recent performances in the qualifiers,” he said.
With foreign based players like Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kara Mbodji, Cheikhou Kouyate and Diafra Sakho, who are all enjoying blistering form in Europe, Senegal should be confident ahead of the Mundial. No! Not enough, according the former PSG and Birmingham City defensive midfielder.
“We need to be fit and prepared 100%, and also be in a competitive mood before and during the competition. That is very important. You must soak yourself in it to be able to fly or else you would be overrun,” Cisse said.
Are Senegal among the giant teams in Africa? Many people would look up and think before answering.
The Teranga Lions have had great players and have been competitive even in the Africa Cup of Nations, but a major silverware keeps eluding, and that might not be corrected in Russia next year. However, Cisse needs to prove to the world that he has been able to assemble a fresh and formidable team with a great future.
He will hope to emulate his former boss Bruno Metsu, of blessed memory, who hurled instructions from the sidelines to Cisse