'Hardest to come' for Senegal in quest for first African title

Senegal coach Aliou Cissé is bidding to lead his country a step further than the team he captained in an agonising penalty shootout defeat to Cameroon at the 2002 final. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Senegal coach Aliou Cissé is bidding to lead his country a step further than the team he captained in an agonising penalty shootout defeat to Cameroon at the 2002 final. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Coach Aliou Cissé acknowledged Saturday the “hardest is yet to come” for a Senegal side trying to win the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time.

The Teranga Lions are the highest-ranked African nation, at 22nd in the world, and Cissé is bidding to lead his country a step further than the team he captained in an agonising penalty shootout defeat to Cameroon at the 2002 final.

“We’re close to the goal, in the sense of us being in the semi-finals. Having got to this stage here we have hope. But we know the hardest is yet to come,” said Cissé, who missed the decisive spot-kick in that loss to Cameroon.

“We hope this year will be the right one.
We’re two steps away, which is both a long way and not that far at the same time.”

Senegal are making a first semi-final appearance since 2006, while Sunday’s opponents Tunisia have not advanced this far since winning the competition on home soil 15 years ago.

“I’m aware of what getting to the semi-finals represents,” said Tunisia boss Alain Giresse. “There was an obsessive aspect. It’s a relief but not an end in itself.”

Cissé, 43, replaced Giresse as Senegal coach in 2015 but the former France star insisted his firsthand knowledge of the opposition would have little bearing on the result.

“If the match came down to knowledge of the players that would be a good thing, but the reality is different,” said Giresse.

“Knowledge and relationships are one thing but what happens on the pitch is the most important.”

“It’s pretty special to be on the other side, but it’s a personal thing that only concerns me. It won’t factor into the preparation of the Tunisian players,” he added.

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