Senegal manager Aliou Cisse said he believed an African team could win the World Cup after beating Qatar 3-1 on Friday to roar back into Group A contention.
No African side has ever gone beyond the quarter-finals at a World Cup and only Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana have reached that stage.
Cisse believes a string of surprise results so far in Qatar prove that “things have changed” in world football and he sees no reason why this cannot be Africa’s year.
“Yes, an African country can win the World Cup, and I hope that it will be Senegal,” said the manager, who was part of the Senegal side that upset France on the way to a quarter-final appearance in Japan and South Korea 20 years ago.
“All the teams who are competing at this World Cup are teams who are worthy of being here.
“It’s not like 30 or 35 years ago where the big fish were completely eating the smaller teams alive.”
Senegal lost their opening game against the Netherlands but put themselves right back into contention with a convincing win over host nation Qatar.
– Remarkable rise –
Goals either side of half-time from Boulaye Dia and Famara Diedhiou put the African champions in the driving seat before Mohammed Muntari brought Qatar back into the match.
Substitute Bamba Dieng calmed Senegalese nerves with a third goal six minutes later, and Cisse was happy with his strikers in the absence of injured superstar Sadio Mane.
“It’s very difficult to replace a high-calibre player such as Sadio Mane but football is a team sport,” he said.
“Any coach wants the team to be playing well together and we were very patient. Sadio is Sadio and he’s a great player.”
Dia was playing non-league football in France when Senegal was playing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and he capped his remarkable rise with a goal on his second World Cup start.
“On a personal note, it’s hard scoring a goal at the World Cup and this was very important for me,” said Dia, who pounced on a fluffed clearance to put Senegal ahead in the 41st minute.
“I was an amateur football player three or four years ago so I couldn’t be happier.”
Senegal will try to clinch their place in the knock-out round when they take on Ecuador on Tuesday and Cisse said he felt the team “coming together” against Qatar.
“They were determined today, they wanted to play differently and make their mark on the World Cup,” he said.
“I believe that they will be able to continue in the same vein against Ecuador.”