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Diouf wants Senegal to believe

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Former Liverpool striker El Hadji Diouf says that all Senegal need to win a first Africa Cup of Nations title is ‘belief’.

With a team boasting stars such as Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal contested – and lost – the last Nations Cup final, in 2019, to Algeria.

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It followed a previous failure in 2002 when Diouf was among those to miss in the shoot-out, handing Cameroon that year’s title on penalties.

Having already clinched their qualification for next year’s delayed finals in Cameroon, Senegal wrap up their Group one campaign when travelling to Congo-Brazzaville and hosting already-eliminated eSwatini later this month.

“To be champions, it is about organisation, hard work and belief,” Diouf told BBC Sport Africa.

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“I think what the Senegalese team needs today to be the champions of Africa is to believe. You can have all the talent you want around the world but if you don’t believe in yourself, if you don’t say ‘I’m coming to win this Afcon in Cameroon’, you are never going to do it.

“You have to believe in yourself, work hard and in players like Sadio Mane, we have the key to success.”

Diouf, who helped Senegal reach the last eight of the World Cup in 2002, had some words of encouragement for the current crop of Senegalese players.

“They are the best – they have to know they are the best and they have to believe they are the best,” added the two-time African Footballer of the Year.

“The only thing I have to say to them is to think about just one thing: the thing that I missed out on in my career – to be the first Senegal team to win Afcon.”

While the Teranga Lions – the only team to have won all their qualifiers so far – can look ahead to Cameroon, both Congo and Guinea-Bissau are fighting for the second available qualifying place.

Aiming to reach the Nations Cup for the first time since reaching the quarter-finals in 2015, Congo have seven points and will be favourites to advance ahead of Guinea-Bissau, who have just three points so far.

While Congo host Senegal in the first of the final two qualifiers, Guinea-Bissau – who are hoping to qualify for a third consecutive Nations Cup after a maiden appearance in 2017 – travel to Eswatini.

The final round of games features a potentially-decisive clash in Bissau where the hosts take on the Congolese while the match between Senegal and visiting Eswatini is something of a dead rubber.

There are a total of 48 qualifying matches in March, with all the teams involved playing twice, as the protracted race to reach the 2021 Nations Cup finals comes to a close.

So far Algeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Mali have qualified to join hosts Cameroon at the delayed finals, leaving 19 places left to fil – with 39 teams still in contention. —BBC

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