A Senegalese redemption story

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In February 2002, a few months before becoming one of the sensations of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, Senegal came close to winning their first major title. The Lions of Teranga had battled their way to the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, where they faced Cameroon. The match went all the way to a penalty shootout, which was decided in the cruellest of fashions, with Aliou Cisse missing from the spot to give victory to the Indomitable Lions.

The fates were kinder to Senegal when they made the final of AFCON 2021, held earlier this year, as they beat Egypt on penalties to win the trophy for the first time. Cisse was there again, now as his country’s coach, watching from the sidelines as his side triumphed on penalties to reverse the misfortune that had befallen him 20 years earlier.

Yet there is much more to his success story as Senegal coach than that maiden crown. Under his tenure, they have qualified for two consecutive World Cups for the first time ever. Having exited in the group phase at Russia 2018, Senegal will be hoping to do better at Qatar 2022, where they have been drawn into Group A with Netherlands, Ecuador and hosts Qatar. A versatile defender and midfielder in his playing days, Cisse spent the bulk of his club career in Europe, running out for the likes of Lille, Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier in France, and Birmingham City and Portsmouth in England. He also captained Senegal on their World Cup debut at Korea/Japan 2002, when they equalled an African record by reaching the quarter-finals, a stage of the competition that no side from the continent has ever surpassed. Given his contribution at those world finals, and despite that fateful AFCON shootout miss, Cisse made a significant impact in his international career. During his time in the dugout, however, he has become an even more influential figure in Senegalese football.

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Appointed to the job in 2015, Cisse took Senegal to the final of AFCON 2019, where they lost 1-0 to Algeria. When the Lions of Teranga reached the tournament showpiece again at AFCON 2021, it was the first time ever that they had made back-to-back finals. Their Russia 2018 campaign was also far from a disaster. Drawn into a tight group with Colombia, Japan and Poland, Senegal finished third, level on points and goal difference with the Japanese, and only missed out on the Round of 16 on account of having picked up more yellow cards. Cisse has the chance to atone for that frustrating exit at Qatar 2022, where he and Senegal have designs on breaking yet more new ground.