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Senegal coach Cisse wins over critics after Cup of Nations win


Dakar (AFP) – Thousands of Senegalese supporters are celebrating their country’s maiden Africa Cup of Nations win on Monday, feting coach Aliou Cisse, who only a month ago was battered by criticism over his tactical choices.

Fans hailing global stars such as Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy were also chanting the name of Cisse after he orchestrated their win over Mohamed Salah’s Egypt 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out in Sunday’s final in Cameroon.

The game had finished goalless after extra time.

The victory marked Senegal’s first in the tournament and sparked jubilant celebrations across the West African country’s capital on Sunday evening.

President Macky Sall declared Monday a public holiday to mark the victory after which a grey baseball cap-clad Cisse was ubiquitous across national media — draped in the national flag, in tears before fans at the stadium after the final or being thrown in the air by his joyous players.

“He allowed us to get the cup we had been waiting for years. I was among those giving him stick — but we’ve none better than him,” said Alla Diop, a 30-year-old trader among ecstatic fans celebrating in Dakar.

Cisse had come in for some bitter criticism from millions of fans since first taking over the Lions of Teranga in 2015 but also from game insiders in a football-obsessed country.

Many held his philosophy to be too defensive and too slow to make the most of top-drawer talents such as Mane.

– Missed spotkick memory –

“If we don’t win the AFCON it would be more respectful for Aliou Cisse to pack it in,” suggested his former international teammate Khalilou Fadiga before the event.

Fadiga was among the previous generation of players alongside Cisse which lost a CAN final in Mali in 2002 — Cisse missed in the shootout against Cameroon — then followed up with a quarter-final exit to Turkey at that year’s World Cup.

Fans had begun to fear a jinx after Cisse coached the side to a final loss in 2019 when Algeria triumphed thanks to a freakish deflected goal.

Cisse has taken the national side to three African showpiece tournaments — 2017, 2019 and 2021 — as well as the 2018 World Cup.

“We were 14th in the African rankings and 64th in the FIFA standings when I arrived,” he recalled recently.

“Today, we are first on the continent and in the world top 20.”

– Debt “repaid” –

Finally this year saw Senegal live up their status as a top tip to land the trophy — and Cisse found feelings towards him begin to turn in his favour with the last 16 win over Equatorial Guinea.

It was thereafter that journalist Cheick Tidiane Gomis, a journalist with newspaper Wal Fadjri, publicly congratulated him for his substitutions to manage that victory.

“In six years you only lambasted me, Gomis. This compliment really goes straight to the heart,” said Cisse.

After the final Fadiga showered him with warm and effusive praise — as did his squad.

“This trophy, I dedicate it to Aliou. You cannot know just how much he has brought to the Senegal team,” Liverpool star Mane said Monday.

“Champions of Africa! It was a long time coming and it was difficult but we never gave up. We dedicate this victory to the Senegalese people,” said Cisse.

“Since independence we have been running to catch up. Now we too have a star on our shirt,” said Cisse before his players swamped him at his press conference.

For Dakar trader Mammy Diallo, harking back to the heartbreak of the defeat on penalties 20 years ago, “he had been carrying a debt since 2002 which he completely paid back yesterday”.

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