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23.06.2019 Cup of Nations

Senegal prepare to man up without Mané against Tanzania

By Paul Myers in Cairo - RFI

Senegal start their quest for a first Africa Cup of Nations title on Sunday without their skipper and star striker Sadio Mané. The 27-year-old Liverpool front man is suspended for the tie against Tanzania due to yellow cards picked up during the qualifiers for the 2019 tournament.

"We would have preferred to have him,” said stand-in captain Cheikhou Kouyate. “He's our best player but we have players to cover his absence."

With Senegal 109 places above Tanzania in the rankings compiled by world football's governing body Fifa, Mané's absence on paper, should not prevent a comfortable victory for the Senegalese against a nation that has not appeared at the competition since 1980.

But the opening games in Egypt have shown that such discrepancies can be misleading.

Egypt struggled for fluency in their 1-0 win over Zimababwe side and Uganda made a mockery of the rankings during their romp past a much fancied team from Democratic Republic of Congo.

Senegal coach, Aliou Cissé, has cannily reduced the pressure on his side in the prelude to the Group C match at the 30 June Stadium in Cairo.

"Our recent results show that Senegal is making progress,” said the former Senegal skipper. “But the statistics don't lead to victories. France were not top of the Fifa rankings and they were world champions."

The 43-year-year old added: "Favourites are the teams who have won things.  Senegal have never won the Cup of Nations. Egypt have claimed it seven times. But we know our strengths and we are genuine challengers.”

Cissé's squad gave a good account of themselves at the World Cup in Russia in 2018. They missed out on a place in the last 16 due to the number of yellow cards the team had been given during the group stages.

"To get to the semi-finals of the Cup of Nations would be normal for this team,” said Cissé whose side reached the last four in 2017.

Emmanuel Amunike, the Tanzania coach, said he was unconcerned by the huge gap between the sides in the rankings.

"Do not be surprised if you see some of these so-called big teams packing their bags early and heading home,” added the former Nigeria international.

Tanzania's last campaign at the Cup of Nations came in 1980 when it was an eight team affair. Their interest ended swiftly. They finished bottom of their group with one point.