Former Senegal striker Mamadou Niang wants to believe that the generation led by Sadio Mané is the one that will offer the Teranga Lions their first major title on the African continent, this Sunday against Egypt, in the CAN 2022 final. This is what he explains in an interview with RMC Sport.
Mamadou Niang, we have the impression that Senegal has a golden opportunity to repair this historical error by winning the African Cup of Nations, what do you say?
We have a second chance, after the disappointment in 2019, against Algeria in the final. We are lucky to be able to fix that, to catch up, and to finally write history. Senegal has not won a CAN, has no star on the shirt. For many people, this is not normal. Sunday, we will have the opportunity to fix that and we will try to play a big game.
Does this team have something more than previous generations?
I’ve always said it, if a team deserves to win a competition, it’s this group. Since they have been together, they have done an incredible job, even if they have gone through difficult periods where the game has not always been there. They have always been able to stay united, it’s a good group that works well. They are good little ones, they are adorable, all of them. They are incredibly kind, they are polite. It is truly a family, a healthy and united group. Of all the generations I have known since 2002, this is really the team that most deserves to win.
All generations have had a player above the lot, but it seems that with Mané, Senegal has a player recognized worldwide, a cador.
Everyone already knew it but we can see it even more through the last matches he was able to play, especially the quarter and semi-final. We are lucky to have an incredible Sadio Mané, he is a top player, a world class player. We are very proud of it. But beyond that, he is someone who thinks collectively, who has a sense of the collective. If he is at this level, it is because he can count on his partners who push him to be at this level. There’s no jealousy in this band, no hypocrisy. They know the quality of Sadio so they do everything to put him forward, so that he can express himself as best as possible. I’m thinking of the backbone of this team, with Kalidou Koulibaly. I could even add Abdou Diallo who really took responsibility during this AFCON. He is part of this backbone for me, along with Gana Gueye too, who has been an important player for quite a few years in the selection. We can add quality players who are leaders like Kouyaté. Up-and-coming players like Pape Gueye or Ismaila Sarr, and so on. Like Nampalys Mendy who did not start and won. For me he will be in the typical team of this CAN because he makes incredible matches in the middle.
Throughout the competition, we have the feeling that Senegal is developing a more attractive football and is the favourite. What is the trap to avoid?
We are not favorites, we do not feel favorites in any case. We know that we will be dealing with a great African. Egypt is not nothing. It is the most titled country. Sunday will be their tenth final, they have already played nine and won seven. They are used to this kind of pressure. For us, it will only be our third final. They will be favourites, we are the underdogs. We will try to write history, to win our first title. We will go there with a lot of humility and concentration to play a good game.
What is the role of these big brothers of which you are a part, what do you tell them to these players?
I think it was good that former internationals were present during this AFCON. We have to show that we are all pulling in the same direction. With this older generation, we try to push them as far as possible, towards victory. They so deserve it. You see, I have no more voice, I screamed so much during the semi-final… Even when I was playing, I never felt so much stress than during the semi-final. I so want this generation to go all the way, to offer this first African Cup to the Senegalese people. This is the year this generation can do it.
How to break this dynamic of this Senegal which cannot win?
It’s football, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The problem is that we lost finals each time when it was not deserved. In 2002 against Cameroon, Mali, on penalties. I think we deserve the win. Throughout the competition, we were on top. In 2019, throughout the competition, we are average but we have increased in strength, and we have an extraordinary final. Unfortunately we lose again. Luck did not turn on our side. I hope it will be the opposite on Sunday. We have to give ourselves the means to put on a good match and believe in our lucky stars. The team does everything it takes to be on top. They are serious, focused, rigorous, there are no bad apples in the group. The players are concerned. They will give everything to get this victory.