Without a doubt, Senegal were the great revelation of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. Making their debut in the prestigious tournament, Les Lions de la Teranga forced fans to their feet around the world through their talent and devil-may-care style of play.
One of the key players in that legendary team was their captain, Aliou Cisse, who stood out as much for his strength and composure amid the hustle-and-bustle of midfield as for his memorable reggae singer-style haircut.
Almost 16 years later, Cisse and Senegal are back on the international stage. The former captain is still as determined and intelligent as he was during his playing days, except now he runs things from the bench. Notably, the team has been exhibiting a brand of attractive football similar to that showcased by their predecessors in 2002.
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia drawing ever closer, FIFA.com caught up with the Senegal coach, focusing on four specific points.
- Two generations, the same objective.
“It’s already been 16 years! And we haven’t qualified for a World Cup since then. After 2002, many people thought that we’d become tournament regulars, but that wasn’t the case. Finally, we’re back, and 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. 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.”
- A young and talented team lacking in experience – echoes of 2002, perhaps?
“It does seem that way, doesn’t it? 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. 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.
“I would like us to start off in that same frame of mind; I want my boys to concentrate on their own game, to have fun and to not be overly concerned about who is watching them around the world. If we can manage to be ourselves, to enjoy the experience and at the same time adopt a serious approach, then we might just surprise a few people again.”
- Group H opponents: Poland, Japan and Colombia.
“It’s an even group, but it’s also pretty difficult. Colombia are already accustomed to this type of tournament: let’s not forget they reached the quarter-finals in 2014! Poland are one of the top seven teams in the world. And then you’ve got Senegal and Japan. You might say that we’re both going to try and play a kind of spoiler role. Although the group does look very tight, when compared to others, we’ll aim to take advantage of any opportunities that arise with great determination, while playing our usual game.”
- The FIFA World Cup: best as a coach or a player?
“As a coach, because I couldn’t do it anymore as a player! (Laughs). It’s a source of pride to be able to play a part in this World Cup. In 2002 I was captain and now I’m the coach – I love the idea of being able to pass on my experience and knowledge to these players, so that they understand that every fibre of the Senegal jersey represents a person in that country and in Africa. That, as far as I’m concerned, is an extraordinary privilege.”