14 January 2017

Senegal/Tunisia: Who's Who of Football Face Carthage Eagles on Sunday

Photo: Carl Recine/Thomson Reuters Media Express
Liverpool's Sadio Mane is part of Senegal's line-up of top African football talent.

Pre-tournament favourites Senegal will receive a stern early test of their championship credentials when they take on Tunisia in a tasty 2017 African Nations Cup Group B clash at the Stade de Franceville on Sunday (19h00 GMT).

Senegal have quality throughout their squad with players from Europe's elite leagues and last year climbed to the top of the African list of FIFA's World Rankings.

They have been crafted into a potent force by coach Aliou Cisse, a former captain of the side who led the team to the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup in 2002.

Their squad list reads like a Who's Who of top African football talent, from forward Sadio Mane to midfielder Idrissa Gueye, and defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who is being tracked by just about all of Europe's top clubs.

But Cisse is well aware that Senegal have gone into previous Nations Cup finals tournaments with an abundance of individual talent; where they have fallen short has been gelling together as a cohesive unit.

"I've heard some say that Senegal is favourite because the backbone of his team plays in major championships," Cisse told reporters. "If talent alone was enough, Senegal would have won the Nations Cup for ages with certainly more talented previous generations.

"My certainty with these players is that they want to write the history of our national football."

They showed their quality in reaching the finals though, managing a full haul of six victories in the qualification tournament in a pool that also included Burundi, Niger and Namibia.

Tunisia have been a mixed bag in their warm-up matches. They beat fellow qualifiers Uganda 2-0, but lost 3-1 to a Basque invitational side and were defeated 1-0 by Egypt last Sunday.

They are led by veteran Polish coach Henryk Kasperczak, who admits his team do not have the individual star quality of a Senegal, but that they function well as a unit.

"We do not have the same potential as other African teams in which players are playing in the top leagues in Europe," Kasperczak told reporters. "That's how it is with the Algerians, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Mali, Morocco, DR Congo, Burkina Faso and Egypt.

"In addition, when it comes to our players, those who play in European teams often do not play in regularly, like Syam Ben Youssef and Wahbi Khazri. Our strength is as a collective."

Senegal have never claimed the Nations Cup title before, while Tunisia's only success came on home soil in 2004.

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