Sadio Mane and Edouard Mendy say Senegal are determined to ease the pressure on coach Aliou Cisse by winning the Africa Cup of Nations Sunday when facing Egypt.
Senegal, Nations Cup runners-up in 2019, were among the pre-tournament favourites, but endured a slow start in Cameroon.
The Teranga Lions began with a slim win over Zimbabwe followed by goalless draws against Guinea and Malawi in Group B, which led to media criticism of Cisse.
But Liverpool forward Mane’s brilliance helped them to dominating victories over Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso to reach the final.
“I believe this man [Aliou Cisse] deserves everything because he’s the most criticised coach I’ve ever seen in my life, but he never gives up,” Mane told BBC Sport Africa.
“He trusts himself, he trusts the group. He has critics outside, but right here he is doing his job.
“Most importantly, we would like to win this for him and our country because he deserves it after everything he went through as a player for Senegal and now as the coach.
“It will be a great reward for everything he has given to his country.”
Cisse won 35 caps for Senegal during his playing career and captained the side at the 2002 World Cup as they beat holders France in their opening game and went on to reach the quarter-finals.
Senegal are chasing their first-ever Nations Cup triumph, having lost on both their previous appearances in the final.
Cisse, 45, has ended up on the beaten side as a player and a coach – missing the decisive penalty in the shoot-out defeat by Cameroon in the 2002 final.
In 2015, he replaced Frenchman Alain Giresse as Teranga Lions coach and his first Nations Cup tournament in 2017 ended in a quarter-final exit against eventual champions Cameroon.
Despite promising so much at the 2018 World Cup, Senegal failed to progress and the following year, he lost the 2019 final to end hopes of a maiden continental title.
Under his watch, they have established themselves as the highest-ranked side in Africa – 20th on Fifa’s global list.
Mane hopes he can break the duck for the West African nation and deliver their first-ever continental title.
“All the players know that we are very close to it now,” the 29-year-old added.
“Being close again to the trophy doesn’t matter. We still have to work hard to win because we’ve been in the final years ago and this time we must do everything not let it slip. We have to win.”
Chelsea goalkeeper Mendy missed Senegal’s first two matches in Cameroon because of coronavirus but has returned and conceded just twice in the four games since.
The 29-year-old was too young to fully remember his coach’s heartache of 2002 but Mendy, named Best Fifa goalkeeper of 2021, remembers the heartbreak of three years ago in Egypt.
“We’ve been here before, but the manager has what it takes to lead us to success,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“What makes Senegal special under his guidance, I think, is the team spirit and the team effort.
“The coach is Senegalese like us. When he speaks he knows what he’s saying and that’s a big advantage for us. Someone who has been on this same path and football journey.
“We have one more important step to take and we hope we can do it for Senegal, the coach and of course ourselves.”—BBC