What you need to know:
- His doubters will be keenly watching and the former defensive midfielder must come out attacking to silence the same critical voices and to prove that African coaches can excel at the highest level.
When one of the hero of the Senegalese team that reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup Aliou Cisse walked into the press conference hall at the immaculate Al Thumama Stadium late on Monday evening, donning a baseball cap worn low, you could sense he was a man ready for battle.
His walk was measured, his demeanour thoughtful, but there was a hint of defiance in his eyes, like that of battle-hardened lion ready to defend his range.
The questions, inevitably, touched on the capability of the team and Cisse’s management. “The coach is responsible for any defeat,” he responded calmly.
“We are disappointed not to score. We had two, three chances, which we should have scored.
“We managed the game well. We had a definite plan. We wanted to press them high up the field but we got tired. But we deserved a point in this match.”
Goalkeeper Edouardo Mendy may be faulted for the two goals the Lions conceded but Cisse refused to shift blame on any individual only saying that the defeat would motivate them to train harder for their next game.
Cisse has constantly faced pressure from the demanding fans back at home whenever Senegal lose from the time he was promoted from assistant to the top job in 2015 at just 39 years of age.
His fast act on the job was to drop several senior players the likes of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse as he embarked on building a new team.
There was pressure for him to be sacked after he lost to Algeria in the final of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. He particularly came under heavy criticism from former players but the Senegalese Football Federation stuck with him.
He duly repaid the federation by winning this year’s Afcon in Cameroon, the first, and long overdue continental title for the Teranga Lions.
Cisse most certainly would have lost his job if he had not clinched the African crown early this year, becoming the second youngest coach to lead a team to the continent’s ultimate football prize.
Asked on Sunday about his thoughts on all the African teams being led by local coaches here in Qatar he said they (coaches) were certainly under focus with doubters waiting for them to fail so that it could be said African coaches were not good enough.
Tellingly, the horde of Senegalese journalists, branded in blue polo shirts, who have on numerous occasions attacked his tenure, kept their composure as the press briefing progressed.
The focus will be squarely on Cisse, considered a disciplinarian, on Friday when Teranga Lions take on home side Qatar in a match they must win to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the round of 16.
“If you lose the first match, the second match becomes a final,” Cisse declared.
His doubters will be keenly watching and the former defensive midfielder must come out attacking to silence the same critical voices and to prove that African coaches can excel at the highest level.