It is Day 20 of the 2019 TOTAL Africa Cup of Nations, and the stage is set for the rest of the world to seat back and enjoy the beauty of the beautiful game made in Africa. With the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Copa America and Gold Cup out of the way, the AFCON is the only international tournament going on now, its Africa’s opportunity to shine.
The quarter-finals of the 32nd edition of the AFCON starts today with 2002 runners-up Senegal taking on Benin at the 30 June Stadium in Cairo for a place in the semi-finals.
Senegal who are in their 15th AFCON appearance are yet to lift the trophy. They will fancy themselves to through against a Benin team that has only progressed out of the group stages for the first time in their fourth AFCON appearance and are yet to win an AFCON game in open play in their previous thirteen games.
Sadio Mane’s 15th minute strike was enough to see off the Cranes of Uganda in the round of 16 for Aliou Cisse’s Teranga Lions.
Benin played the game of their lives to beat Morocco on penalties after a 1-1 draw after extra time though Morocco are 41 places above them on the FIFA rankings and had won all three of their group games while Benin only managed three draws.
This might be a golden opportunity for Senegal to finally go all the way to lift the trophy with the likes of defending champions Cameroon, host nation and seven time winners Egypt, the Black Stars of Ghana and Morocco already shown the door. Their coach Aliou Cisse acknowledges that.
“It is true that Cameroon are not here, the big favourites are no longer here today,” Cisse told reporters. “Of course, that gives us ideas and gives us even more confidence to say yes, maybe this year will be the one,” he added.
“But like I said, that’s just hope, and it won’t be enough. We’ll have to work hard, we’ll have to be serious, and that is what we are doing,” the 43 year old coach who captained to the final in 2002 added.
It might be a big mistake to underestimate the Squirrels of Benin under the tutelage of French coach Michel Dussuyer who led Guinea to the quarter-finals in 2010. He has insisted that their presence at this level of the competition is down to their hard work.
“Our presence at this stage is not out of luck. We have worked hard and I believe in my players,” the 60 year old former Cannes goalkeeper told reporters.
Senegal should be wary of this unpredictable hard working Beninese team and some of their key players have made a timely reminder.
“People see Benin as a surprise package, no. We have been observing them since the group stage. They have a compact team and play very well,” Senegal’s Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly said.
It will be the first meeting between these two countries in the AFCON, though they have played against each other on six previous occasions with Senegal winning four against one win for Benin and a draw.
The Teranga Lions of Senegal have progressed from two of their previous seven quarter-finals, while Benin are at this stage for the first time.
The Squirrels of Benin are the team that has played the most AFCON games without winning (13 – D5, L8).
Senegal are favourites to win this game but Benin will not go down without a fight.
Players to Watch
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Position: Forward Club: Liverpool Age: 27
He is currently the joint top scorer on three goals in this tournament just like Adam Ounas of Algeria, Odion Ighalo of Nigeria and Cedric Bakambu of the DRC, though he has missed two penalties out of the three he has taken in this tournament in Egypt. The aspirations of the Senegalese people lie on the shoulders of the Liverpool front man.
Cebio Soukou (Benin)
Position: Midfielder: Hansa Rostock Age: 26
He is the unsung hero of this Beninese team. The hard working German born Beninese midfielder has already delivered two assists in three of the goals Benin has scored in the competition so far. He will be key in their game plan today.