Last weekend, Senegal won the African U-20 AFCON title, beating The Gambia 2-0 in Cairo, Egypt. The Senegalese will head to Indonesia 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup as African champions.
A month earlier, on February 4, Senegal claimed the African Nations Championship (CHAN) title, beating Algeria in a penalty shootout. The West Africans had won the 2022 African Nations Cup held in Cameroun, beating the Pharaohs of Egypt 4-2 in a penalty shootout. They also won the 2022 Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, to become the first African country to simultaneously hold the continent’s three most prestigious titles.
At the end of the AFCON tournament in Cameroun in 2022, the head coach of the Teranga Lions, Aliou Cisse, was in cloud nine, with many Senegalese fans chanting his name after the win over Mohamed Salah’s Egypt.
That victory marked Senegal’s first in the tournament, and sparked celebrations across Dakar and other cities in Senegal.
Shortly after the victory at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, The Guardian approached Cisse for a late night interview in the team’s hotel.
Among other issues, Cisse revealed to The Guardian how good coaching and quality infrastructure propelled Senegal’s football.
“Our victory here in Cameroon was as a result of solid foundation laid back home. To be frank, this victory was actually made in Senegal, but delivered in Cameroon,” Cisse told The Guardian, using his right hand to adjust his wristwatch. “It was a long process filled with difficulties, but we never gave up.
“Since independence, we have been running to catch up, and now we have a star on our shirt. I dedicate this victory to the people of Senegal,” he said.
Cisse was among the previous generation of players, who lost a Cup of Nations final at Mali 2002. He missed in the shootout against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, then followed up with a quarterfinal exit to Turkey at Korea/Japan FIFA World Cup.
Fans had begun to fear a jinx after Cisse coached the Teranga Lions to a final loss in 2019, where they lost to Algeria.
Before the victory in Cameroun, Cisse had taken the Teranga Lions to three African showpiece tournaments, in 2017, 2019 and 2021, as well as the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. For Cisse, the foundation of a country’s football growth can only come from the youth level.
“An important strategy in developing football has to begin from youth football,” he said then. “Senegal has a proud history of appointing local coaches with understanding of the cultural heartbeat of the various teams as well as the country.”
Speaking further, Cisse said: “If you look at the number of foreign coaches at the 2019 AFCON compared to the 2022 AFCON, you notice that the number of homegrown coaches increased. It means that we have been training technicians, and skilled technicians. Now, I think it is important to keep going further in terms of enhancing our techniques and abilities and strengthening our technical departments. If there are competent coaches locally, I don’t see why African countries should go looking elsewhere; you should put your faith in them. I think that to manage a national team, you need to know the reality of the country, and be highly competent in a technical and tactical sense. In reality, it is also important to know about your country’s past because if you don’t know about the past, it is difficult to talk about the future. I am sure this victory in Cameroun will spur Senegalese youth and junior teams to success in the coming years. Just watch out,” Cisse stated.
True to his prediction, Senegal’s football has been on the rise since then, with the country sweeping all trophies available in Africa continent.
Before the Junior Teranga Lions won the AFCON U-20 title in Cairo last weekend, Senegal had played in three consecutive finals of the U20 AFCON in 2015, 2017 and 2019 without a win.