Senegal coach Aliou Cisse has made no secret of his desire for his boys to emulate the Teranga Lions’ previous World Cup team and write their own history in the tournament, but is downplaying his side’s changes of reaching the quarter finals.
After ending their 16-year wait for a return to the top table, Cisse is confident that they can make up for last time, as they begin their World Cup preparations with a friendly against Uzbekistan in Casablanca on Friday.
“It’s already been 16 years!” he told FIFA, “and we haven’t qualified for a World Cup since then.
“In 2002, we found ourselves in a group with France, the reigning world and European champions at the time, Uruguay and Denmark, but that didn’t prevent us from going on a great adventure,” Cisse continued.
“We didn’t worry too much about the situation, the other teams, or the way we were playing; we just kept our focus and enjoyed the moment.
“After 2002, many people thought that we’d become tournament regulars, but that wasn’t the case.
They failed to reach the 2010 or 2014 events, and even missed out on the Nations Cup in 2013 as the final embers of the 2002 generation departed from the international scene.
“Finally, we’re back,” added Cisse, who was a member of Bruno Metsu’s squad 16 years ago. “Obviously a lot of comparisons are being drawn with that generation, but that team already created its bit of history, and now it’s up to this one to create its own.
“We would also love to reach the quarter finals, but even if we didn’t make it out of our group we could still have a good World Cup,” he added. “We’ve got a young squad with a lot of talent, but they lack experience at the highest level.
“We’ll have to go there without an insecurity complex, play our natural game and stick to our African identity, which defines our football.”
In truth, the current Senegal squad has much more pedigree than the 2002 generation, with the nation’s footballers becoming much more commonplace in Europe’s major leagues since the Teranga Lions’ emergence on the international scene.