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Sports

Senegal set to bust the ghosts of Africa Cup of Nations past

media Liverpool striker Sadio Mané will lead the Senegal attack during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Reuters/Phil Noble

A sense of guilt haunts the Senegal squad as they prepare to take on Tunisia on Sunday for the opening Group B match at the Africa Cup of Nations. Two years ago in Equatorial Guinea, Senegal failed to make it out of the group stages. It was even worse in 2013 in South Africa where they lost all three of their matches.

On both occasions, they were tipped as potential champions.

Spearheaded by the Liverpool goal machine Sadio Mané, Senegal are again lined up for great things in 2017.

But the spectres of those debacles still hover over the squad.

Skipper Cheikhou Kouyaté said on the eve of their opening game that the players are under an obligation to make up for their poor performances.

“What we did last time wasn’t good enough, especially since people expected more from us," he commented. "We’re here in Gabon to do better than we did two years ago.”

Never won CAN

Although considered one of the heavyweights of African football, Senegal has never won the Africa Cup of Nations in 13 visits to the finals. They came nail-bitingly close in 2002 when they lost a penalty shootout in the final against Cameroon.

For the group stages of the 2017 event, they are based in Franceville and following Sunday’s opener against Tunisia, they will take on Zimbabwe on 19 January and Algeria on 23 January.

“We want to show that we’ve matured and that what happened two years ago was down to inexperience,” said Kouyaté, who plays for West Ham United in the English Premier League. “Now the team is more experienced and is hungry for success. I think that we're ready for it.”

Attitude changed

Coach Aliou Cissé echoed his skipper’s analysis.

"Since I took over in March 2015, there’s been a big step forward. A new mentality has taken root among the players," he commented. "It’s a different team from two years ago. That old attitude has gone.

"We’re aware and confident. Aware of the expectations on us and confident about our potential and about what we’ve doing for the past 18 months in the national team and what the players have been doing in their domestic clubs."

Senegal carry the mantle of Africa’s highest-rated team in the Fifa world rankings. But the draw for the 2017 Cup of Nations borders on the sadistic. Tunisia and Algeria are considered the fourth and fifth best sides respectively.

"Tunisia is a good side," added Cissé. "But so are Senegal. It’s going to be a tough match."

Click on the crosses to find CAN matches

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