Senegal coach reconnects with past in search of feat

Aliou Cissé, coach of Senegal in the World Cup.  Photo: Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

Aliou Cissé, coach of Senegal in the World Cup. Photo: Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

The year 2022 has been one of great reunions with the past for coach Aliou Cissé, commander of the Senegal team, which reaches the round of 16 of the World Cup in Qatar, trying again to surprise the world of football. The coach, who has one of the lowest salaries among all coaches in the Cup, who has been in charge of the team for seven years, has already exorcised one of the ghosts of his past as a player in 2022, and is now looking for the same in Qatar.

Twenty years ago, when he was still a player, Cissé was part of the Senegalese team that shocked the world by beating then champions France in the opening game of the World Cup between South Korea and Japan. France, who entered the field with seven of the starting eleven for the 1998 Cup final, even created chances against the Senegalese but did not have the strength to reverse the score from 1 to 0. Senegal finished second in a group that had, in addition to from France, two teams with more football tradition than the African country: Uruguay and Denmark.

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That year the Senegalese, captained by Aliou Cissé, were stopped only in the quarter-finals by Turkey. The memory of that campaign is what motivates Cissé in his work at the head of the Senegal team.

Also in 2002, before enchanting in the World Cup, Senegal had reached the final of the African Cup of Nations, played earlier that year. The final was well contested against Cameroon, one of the continent’s powers, and ended 0-0 in normal time. During the penalty shootout, Cissé, who was already captain of the team, missed his kick, the last of Senegal and which ended the dispute. In February 2022, already as coach of the main team, he managed to fulfill the dream of giving the Senegalese the dreamed title of the African Cup. As fate would have it, the decision against Egypt had the same script, 0-0 and penalty kicks. This time, the party was for the Senegal team, and Aliou Cissé was able, at least for a few moments, to forget all the pain he had gone through twenty years earlier.

Cissé’s success has inspired other African teams to seek out local coaches to guide their teams. All teams from the continent present at the Qatar Cup had coaches from their own countries, the first time in history that this has happened. Historically, African teams hired European or South American coaches to develop local football.

If in the African Cup Aliou Cissé already made peace with the past and won the first title for Senegal, in the Cup he can go further than he did as a player in 2002. Never has an African team reached a World Cup semifinal, and even without the presence of its greatest star, Sadio Mané, who was injured on the eve of the world cup, Senegal was able to accomplish this feat. The first challenge is this Sunday (04), against England, at 4 pm in Brasilia.

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