CAPE TOWN - If you remember Senegal at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, then you’ll remember Aliou Cisse. The west Africans upset champions France in the opening game and then surged on to reach the quarter-finals; Cisse was an influential member and the captain of that team.
Now as Senegal coach, he is bringing that same energy and vibrancy to the team, but also ensuring they are a lot more tactically adept and disciplined. Senegal made the entire continent proud with a superb win over a highly-rated Poland side on Tuesday, but it wasn’t just so much the victory, it was the intelligent manner in which they tactically controlled the game.
It is often said a major downfall of African countries at the World Cup is that they tend to be led by their emotions and in the process, through a lack of focus, things tend to fall apart. Not so with Senegal: they were disciplined throughout, they kept it tight and compact and never allowed the Poles to play through the lines. While Poland had ball possession, they were never able to do anything because of the shape and organisation of the Senegalese. And then, importantly, when Senegal gained possession, they were able to put the opposition under pressure with their athleticism, pace and power on the ball.
There are those who may say Senegal were a touch lucky - an own goal and a disputed second goal because of a referee decision - but anyone who has played this game before knows that in football, you make your own luck. This is a sport that rewards hard work and based on Senegal’s performance, there is no doubt the win was fully deserved.
For Cisse it was a tremendous triumph but more than that, it was just as significant for the symbolic message sent out by the 42-year-old’s success: As the youngest coach and the only black coach among the 32 at Russia 2018, Cisse confirmed the quality, acumen and all-round game suss of a new generation of emerging black coaches. Ignore their rise and ability at your own peril.