Twenty years ago, Alou Cisse played himself into the bad books of many Senegalese football fans, when he lost his penalty kick to hand the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun the Africa Cup of Nations title. The match ended 3-2 in favour of the Camerounians in the shootout after a goalless draw in 90 minutes and extra time.
As customary with defeats, Aliou Cisse, who was the team captain at that time, wept openly at Stade du 26 Mars in Bamako, Mali. He ‘had murdered sleep,’ and was restless throughout the night, while the Camerounians celebrated.
That tournament in Mali marked the best ever result in Senegalese football history until they finished as runners-up once again three years ago in Egypt, where the Teranga Lions lost 0-1 to Algeria. However, many Senegalese fans saw Cisse as the man who stopped them from sipping from the golden cup.
From sadness to joy, Cisse was all smiles on Sunday night at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroun, as he ran around the arena, waving to the crowd with his Senegalese flag flying high.
From being a villain at Mali 2002, Cisse has risen to become one of the greatest football heroes in 2022. The Teranga Lions have finally won their first AFCON title.
At the end of their semifinal tie against Stallions of Burkina Faso last Wednesday, Cisse said he was not in a hurry to predict whether or not his team would lift the trophy.
“This could be our year to win the trophy for the government and people of Senegal, but we still have one major hurdle to cross,” the dark complexioned Cisse told The Guardian as he adjusted his black coloured nose mask.
As at when Senegal secured their final ticket after beating the Burkinabes, the build up to the game between the Pharaohs of Egypt and hosts, Indomitable Lions, was generating tension in every nook and cranny of Cameroun.
“I don’t know yet if we will be facing Cameroun or Egypt, but all I can say is that we are fully prepared to face any opposition that comes our way in the final. This is a different Teranga Lions squad and I pray and hope we get it right this time.”
For years, the Teranga Lions of Senegal had remained under the shadow of much more successful West African giants, including the Super Eagles of Nigeria, Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire and the Black Stars of Ghana. That was the story of Senegal for the majority of the 20th century.
However, in the 2000s, Senegal began to surge and officially established itself as a new powerhouse in African football, becoming a more competitive opponent in the Africa Cup of Nations.
After finishing second behind Cameroun at Mall 2002, the Teranga Lions shocked the entire world a few months later at Japan/Korea 2002 FIFA World Cup.
While other ‘senior’ African teams, including the Super Eagles, led by coach Adegboye Onigbinde, crashed out at the early stage of the 2002 World Cup, debutant, Senegal brushed aside top teams, including a 2-1 win over Sweden and defending champions, France, on their way to the quarterfinals.
Senegal was also at the FIFA World Cup at Russia 2018, but the Teranga Lions were the first team in the competition’s history to be eliminated using the fair play rule after being tied with Japan on the first six tiebreakers. After that disappointment, the team took every competition head on, determined to be judged on their performance on the field and not by any other yardstick.
So, from the beginning of the tournament in Cameroun till the final on Sunday, Cisse was able to prove his worth that football is not only about entertainment, but also about winning.
Apart from his classic pattern, Cisse’s Teranga Lions were rugged. From the goalkeeping area to defence, midfield and attacking positions, Senegal was solid, squeezing gradually all their opponents to submission. It showed the hallmark of a team that prepared itself for a great battle like the Africa Cup of Nations.
Before the 3-1 victory over Burkina Faso in the semifinal last Wednesday, all eight of the nine goals Senegal scored in the tournament came after the hour.
Against the Stallions, Senegal’s breakthrough came in the 70th minute, a corner dropping in the box for Paris Saint-Germaine centre-back, Abdou Diallo, to hook in. Idrissa Gueye knocked the second in after Sadio Mané had outmuscled Issa Kaboré before cutting the ball back. Mané then got the decisive third with a deft finish on the break.
Against the Pharaohs on Sunday, Cisse and his team wanted an early goal to unsettle the tactically balanced Egyptian side, but goalkeeper Gabaski scuttled the plan when he saved Mane’s penalty kick.
Though, the Teranga Lions, who have been Africa’s top-ranked side in the last two years, is full of talented players, representing clubs such as PSG, Chelsea, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, Aliou Cisse was the most pragmatic of all the managers in Cameroun.
Unlike the situation in the Super Eagles, where coaches are not given enough time to build a winning side, Cissé has been the head coach of Senegal since 2015.
Perhaps, if the Amaju’ Pinnick-led NFF board was patient with the late coach Stephen Keshi and allowed him to continue with his job after he won the AFCON title in 2013, the current unhealthy state of the Super Eagles technical crew would have been avoided. And maybe, Keshi wouldn’t have died.
Cisse briefly took charge of the Teranga Lions in a caretaker role following the sacking of Amara Traoré in 2012. He was also the assistant coach of the country’s U-23 side from 2012 to 2013, becoming head coach from 2013 to 2015.
The Teranga Lions were expected to depart Yaounde, Cameroun, yesterday, for Dakar, where the government and people of Senegal have prepared a red carpet reception for the latest football heroes, Aliou Cisse and ‘his army. ‘