CAN 2021: In Senegal, skepticism as strong as hope

In Senegal, the Sadio Mané generation is golden. The backbone of the eleven of the selection of the Lions of Téranga is made up only of stars, but the team’s game is not that hoped by the supporters. Although coach Aliou Cissé has had a positive record since 2015, pessimism reigns from Dakar to Casamance about a first victory in the African Cup of Nations.

It’s simple, Senegal has never lifted the most prestigious African trophies. In 2002, Cameroon beat him on penalties after a sterile final, while in 2019, Algeria of Riyad Mahrez put an end to the dream of an entire country on the smallest of scores. So it’s as if his supporters no longer believe it. On the Dakar corniche, the mini sand pitches welcome hundreds of footballers every day at the end of the afternoon, facing each other, under the eyes of a former Senegalese first division player, Boubacar Camara. Under his red jersey, his athletic appearance does not suggest his age. This 61-year-old enthusiast has dedicated his life to football, but his state of mind before the start of the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon sums up that of a whole people: ” I cried a lot. Disappointment after disappointment. Now, I don’t believe it, it would be a miracle for Senegal to win the CAN. ”

Mentally, it’s not madness

Boubacar believes that Sadio Mané’s generation is not the best Senegal has known. “For me, there were some of the strongest ones, like that of 2002 with El-Hadji Diouf. But even before, we remember Oumar Sène, Jules Bocandé, Boubacar Sarr, he recalls, his eyes deep in memories. They were great players! However, they have won nothing with our country. ” As the sun bends in the sky of the capital, as the lampposts illuminate both the double track and the sandy grounds that border it, the one that the youngest call ” The coach ” , continues his argument. “The problem in Senegal is that we have a lot of talent, but we don’t question ourselves. Take the Egyptians or the Algerians, they play for the nation and fight to the end. We start the competitions well, then we finish them badly. ”

His observation is widely shared by Conakry, an inhabitant of the island of Eloubaline, 500 kilometers from Dakar, in the middle of Casamance. Sitting facing the Bolong, a saltwater channel, he points to the mental deficit of Senegalese players – all generations combined – unable, according to him, to go to the end of a major international competition. He opposes his favorite selection to that of Cameroon, “Who, at least, knows how to put all her soul into the country’s jersey” . And it is not the individualities that will suffice. “Our stars shine in Europe, but you shouldn’t see them too beautiful. It is not because we have Sadio Mané that we are going to win, he judges. This season in the Champions League, the best African is Haller with Ajax. So why not say that Côte d’Ivoire have a better and fitter striker? And it’s the same with our guardian. Mendy is excellent, but our defense is not as well organized as Chelsea’s, be careful! ”

Lots of individualities, little play

This observation drawn up by the supporters, Mansour Loum hears and fully understands it. This journalist specializing in African football and editor of Sport News Africa highlights this famous mental deficit, but above all tactical. “First, the cleaver matches, the Senegalese do not win them, because they are not ready to die on the field. Then, when we see the players, we say to ourselves that this is a team that can win everything. But after 35 minutes, the team is cut in half. Tactically, this is bad. ” A gap between the eleven aligned and the proposed game that makes one think of a French club. Not just any. Ibrahim, a swimsuit seller near the Sandaga market in Dakar, expresses his frustration out loud in front of his multicolored stand. “They have crazy players, but there is no team, everyone agrees! ” His friend did not hear the start of the conversation and suddenly cuts him off: “Are you talking about PSG? ” , he asks her. “No boy! The Senegal ! But it’s like PSG, a selection of good players with no collective game that can make you win a great competition. I regret. ” Nevertheless, Ibrahim is happy to sell a few more shirts than usual. “I will sell even more when the CAN has started and Senegal will have passed the first round, which the mayonnaise will start to take in the country” , smiles the trader who says to himself however ” worry ” a few days before the start of hostilities and above all “Disappointed by the coach” .

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However, Aliou Cissé, finalist of the CAN 2002 of the Lions of Téranga as a player, presents a positive assessment at the head of the selection. “To put it bluntly, his record is good, there is still a CAN final in 2019 and good performances at the 2018 World Cup” , would like to clarify the journalist Mansour Loum. The former Sedan and Paris Saint-Germain player, on the bench since 2015, has led 62 games for 40 wins, 14 draws and only 8 losses. Results that make Senegal the first African nation in the FIFA rankings and 20e global. “But hey, everyone said to themselves that there was room to beat Algeria in Egypt or pass Colombia in Russia. ”

The strange spider-cam theory

Mansour Loum doesn’t think so well. In Senegal, many supporters say not only that there was a place to win the final against the Fennecs, but in addition that they were the victims of an immense injustice. “On the Algerian goal, the ball went up high, it hit the spider cam and it deflected the trajectory of the ball. That’s why he came home and we took a goal ” , complains Amadou Diaye, a young supporter, after a match on the sand fields of the Dakar corniche. “Yes yes, it touched a thing, a cable. Otherwise, it is impossible, given the direction the ball takes. He must have touched something. It’s the spider cam ” , supports his friend by gesturing.
This legend, Mansour Loum has heard it repeatedly, but he brushes it aside with the back of his hand: “It’s simple, there was no spider cam in Cairo for CAN 2019.” At least the debate is closed. However, in Senegal, the controversy grew at the end of the lost final. Press articles, informal discussions between disappointed young supporters and even the voice of a “Scientific apprentice” , Fallou Diouf, helped to suggest that Baghdad Bounedjah’s opening scoring should have been invalidated. According to Fallou Diouf, the goal “Defies the laws of physics” .

“A matter of pride”

Despite the ambient skepticism, all claim to believe in it, deep within themselves. “By passing the first stages, the excitement will start to take, and within the group, there will be revenge players compared to 2019” , emphasizes Mansour Loum. The young automotive mechanical engineer Amadou Diaye, still not recovered from the folkloric goal of the Algerians almost three years ago, dreams of a victory for “Finally being able to say that Senegal has already won the CAN. It’s a matter of pride, we also want to be included in the prize list. ” While Ibrahim, the salesman of football outfits from all over the world, prays that the country knows “A huge party, everywhere, that people dance” , and of course “That we sell lots of swimsuits” ! In the group stage, Senegal will face Zimbabwe on Monday January 10, Guinea on the 14th and Malawi on the 18th. “We are going there with a lot of ambition and desire. We go with the win, to borrow football jargon. We will return with the pride of the accomplished mission, Mr. President ” , declared the Neapolitan defender Kalidou Koulibaly in front of Macky Sall, at the presidential palace this Tuesday, January 4. Since the start of his mandate, the head of state has invested five billion CFA francs (7.6 million euros) for his national team. Boubacar Koulibaly, the coach on the ledge, “Never saw that. What the president has done for the team is huge. Since its era, all the conditions have been met ” . Beyond the pressure that this represents for the players, the symbol is strong: “There is a whole people behind them” , supports Boubacar. As if only cases of Covid could stop the Lions from a land in doubt, but a fertile land that has given birth to, perhaps, great champions.

By Clément Teraha, in Dakar and Eloubaline
Photos: Clément Teraha and Iconsport.

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