Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse has labelled the current crop of players in the national team has the best in the nation’s history, ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations final.
The Teranga Lions will do battle with Algeria at the Cairo International Stadium on Friday night to decide the 32nd Afcon final.
Having never won the competition, Cisse is seeking to take his nation to the Holy Grail in their first final since 2002, when they lost to Cameroon on penalties.
Even though Cisse captained Senegal’s talented side in the competition 17 years ago, the coach believes the current side is more gifted than the team he played in.
“Senegal always had great talents, but I think this generation is the best,” Cisse said at his pre-match press conference, as reported on Caf’s website.
“We played in the World Cup after a long absence, and we are in the Afcon final too. What changed is the mental strength of our players that helps them in games of this magnitude.
“17 years is a very long time since we were last in the final, most of my players were very young then.
“We suffered a lot since then and this generation now wants to achieve more. The game is going to be tough but we want to make our people happy.”
The sides were drawn together in the Group Stage, with Algeria winning the encounter 1-0. The defeat at the hands of the North Africans is the only time Senegal have conceded a goal at the finals and Cisse believes his side have grown since their Group C meeting.
“The defeat to Algeria in the group stage made us come back stronger. Our players are very good and we will be ready,” he continued.
“It’s football and the defeat against Algeria in the group stage is past now. We respect them much but we have to say our word loud. It’s the final so it’s complicated, but simply we just want to win.”
The West Africans will be without star defender Kalidou Koulibaly through suspension and the coach acknowledged how tough the game will be given the Napoli man’s absence.
“Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the best defenders in the world. I convinced him of representing Senegal and I’m sad he won’t be available for the final because he’s a very important player,” Cisse admitted.
“His absence is a regret, but we will find the replacement and tomorrow we play for him.”
Furthermore, Cisse leapt to the defence of Sadio Mane, who has missed a couple of penalties in the competition, and the coach isn’t worried about the possibility of spot-kicks deciding the winner.
“Sadio Mane is the champion of Europe is not thinking of the individual trophies, he is just focusing on making his country proud,” Cisse added.
“Many great players miss penalties. We are training on it and if they were to be needed in the final, we will be ready.”
The former Senegal captain expects a tight encounter in Cairo, given the quality both sides possess.
“There’s no big difference between both teams. Final is about small details. There’s stress and pressure, and these details make the difference. But in the end, African football is the winner.”
Senegal are winless against Algeria in their meetings at the Africa Cup of Nations, failing to defeat the North Africans in four previous matches.