Aliou Cissé, coach of the lions: « We have no right to make the mistakes of 2018 »
Aliou Cissé is preparing for his third FIFA World Cup, his second in a row as Senegal coach. Four years after Russia, the Lions arrive in Qatar with a new status: that of African champions. The native of Ziguinchor is surfing on the confidence garnered after obtaining this first international title in the history of Senegal. Uninhibited and confident, Aliou Cissé talks about his ambitions, his management of the group and his motivations for this new global campaign on FIFA+.
FIFA+: Four years after 2018, Senegal is at the World Cup again, but this time with a new status, that of African Champions. Is it more pressure?
Aliou Cisse: When you are a top athlete, pressure is normal. We have worked tirelessly to achieve these results. We took the time to progress. For 4 years, this group has acquired experience, we are more mature, and therefore better equipped. I won’t say that we have more pressure, we are just aware of it.
You have been coach of Senegal for 7 years. What are the keys to your longevity in this position?
Personally, I don’t see the time passing, I still feel like I arrived yesterday. It is true that we have set ourselves clear objectives. We have evolved serenely, although impatience has often been felt. We were able to stay focused on the essentials. Each competition has allowed us to get closer to the goal and the last one has proven us all right. Hard work always pays off.
What memories do you have of your campaign in Russia in 2018?
The last World Cup was very difficult to digest because we were eliminated in the first round because of cards. Four years have passed. We gained experience. In the meantime, there was the Africa Cup. We continue on the African continent to be among the best teams. Our players have gained experience. They play in big clubs and have had to go through very important meetings during these 4 years. The World Cup is experience. Today, I think the Senegal team is gathering a lot of experience. And as I say, you have to take the matches one after the other. Today, our objective is to get out of this pool first. And after, we will be in knockout matches, we have enough experience to have our say in this competition.
During their preparation for the World Cup in Qatar, the Lions won 2-0 against Bolivia and drew 1-1 against IR Iran. What is your assessment of these last two outings?
Whether it was the game against Bolivia or the game against Iran, we displayed a certain serenity. Against Bolivia, we really mastered our subject. The match against Iran concerns me more. When we see the chances that we had, that we didn’t manage to materialize, it means that we have to continue to work on our efficiency in front of goal, to be more incisive.
If I can make a mini assessment, I can say that the group is happy to be together. These are players who have known each other for a long time. I am very satisfied with the involvement, the state of mind that this group exudes. It is this love, this work and this professional side that make us achieve results. There is no secret. We must continue to work and all pull in the same direction. It is this solidarity that will make us win.
A few days before Senegal enter the World Cup, do you have the names of the 26 players who will be in Qatar?
Before, I didn’t sleep much. But today, it’s sure and certain that I won’t sleep anymore. I really liked the mentality during our last two preparation matches. I really liked the amount of work we offered our boys and their availability. Indeed, this increases the number of choices as far as I am concerned. It brings more competition too. At the beginning of the course, we will try to have a homogeneous group. A balanced group, which lives well. It is also important to precisely defend Senegal in the best way at the World Cup. I feel like saying these are choices of the rich. We try to sit down with all the staff to be able to decide precisely which group will go to the World Cup. But in reality, all the players I’ve used deserve to be there. I will make happy and unhappy but it’s a choice.
Recently, the president of the Cameroonian Football Federation Samuel Eto’o was traveling to Senegal as an ambassador for this World Cup. He made a speech there: “I think this will be the ideal World Cup for us Africans, we can win it”. A reaction ?
President Eto’o’s speech bears witness to the dream of an entire continent. There are necessarily desires to go as far as possible or at least not to set any limits.
Many observers of African football believe that your team is the best equipped African team for Qatar.
Believe me, the five countries will have their chances for this World Cup. If all connoisseurs or specialists think that of all the qualified African teams we are the most equipped, that makes us happy but it does not change us. We show humility. It is up to us to prepare ourselves accordingly with great wisdom. But our ambitions remain the same: to take the matches one after the other. At the last World Cup, we were eliminated after three matches. The objective is to get out of this chicken. And from the moment we get out of this group, we know that these are knockout matches. We will have our say. People are watching the round of 16, the quarter-finals, but our philosophy is match by match. The World Cup is experience. I believe that the mistakes we made in 2018, maybe we won’t make them. And we have no right to commit them. But often when I talk about experience, people think it’s only on the field or the athlete but it’s also the experience of the organization. And you know that a World Cup requires a big organization. Whether it’s the federals, whether it’s the athletes, whether it’s the State of Senegal, everyone is pushing for us to be in the best conditions to tackle this World Cup.