SENEGAL CAN MATCH BRAZIL, COACH CISSE INSISTS

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse insisted yesterday that there is “nothing at stake” in today’s friendly against five-time world champions Brazil.

But the Senegalese appear serious enough about the clash to plot an unscheduled training session at Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday, just hours after arriving in Singapore from Paris.

And despite his words to the contrary, Cisse, 43, has nothing but victory in sight, telling a pre-match press conference: “What’s important is to come out of the game victorious.”

While some would rate the Lions of Teranga as the underdogs in tonight’s game at the National Stadium, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Birmingham defensive midfielder is confident his men will be able to hold their own against the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho.

Senegal’s team, with Sadio Mane in their ranks, training at Bukit Gombak Stadium yesterday. They will take on Copa America champions Brazil at the National Stadium today. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

He explained: “Their strength is in attacking together and defending together. It is important to play our own game and to our talent.”

While world No. 20 Senegal may boast names such as Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye of PSG, Sadio Mane, who joined Liverpool for £34 million (S$57.3 million) in 2016 to briefly become Africa’s most expensive player, is undoubtedly the team’s biggest star.

Cue the chants of “Mane, Mane” from Liverpool fans gathered at Swissotel the Stamford to catch a glimpse of the 27-year-old star as he boarded the team bus for a training session at Bukit Gombak Stadium yesterday evening.

The roar of the 50 fans even attracted the attention of two curious Hong Kong tourists, who wandered in and wondered aloud in Cantonese who the football squad walking through the lobby were.

But despite his status, Mane, with a black-and-green snapback perched on his head, was relaxed as he fielded questions at the press conference.

And he is looking forward to facing Liverpool teammates Roberto Firmino and Fabinho on the pitch.

“Brazil are one of the best teams in the world and I’m always talking with Fabinho about it before the game,” said the soft-spoken player.

“I say, ‘Listen, we’re going to win 4-0’,” he added with a grin. “I love to win, to play against Brazil and win is a big thing for me, my teammates and my country, and I’ll try to get a positive result.”

Having netted 50 goals in 100 appearances for his club and 19 for his country, he has received accolades from Argentina captain Lionel Messi, who recently voted for Mane as the best player in the world.

“Wow, what a compliment, I wish, I wish,” said the Senegalese, when asked about the vote. “I take it as a compliment, try to do my best and never give up.”

After leading the team to a runners-up finish at the Africa Cup of Nations in July, Cisse is aiming for his talented side to go further at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and better Senegal’s best finish of a top-eight placing in 2002.

He had captained the 2002 squad that stunned France 1-0 in the group stage before losing 1-0 to Turkey in the quarter-finals.

When asked to compare the 2002 team with his current side, he said: “We can’t compare the two generations because the mentality, approach are different.

“In terms of results, I can say the 2002 generation is a little bit better because we reached the quarter-finals. If they want to be better than us, they must reach the semi-finals.”

Mane certainly got his coach’s message yesterday, as he leaned in, gave a knowing smile and nodded.

-The Sraits Times

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