Tunisia v Senegal: Talent alone not enough for Cisse's AFCON favourites

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Senegal will be hoping to finally match pre-tournament expectations and claim a first Africa Cup of Nations title in Gabon, but Tunisia represent a tough test in their Group B opener on Sunday.

The Teranga Lions cruised into the competition as the only side to win all four of their qualifiers, form which has helped them rise to 33rd in the FIFA rankings, the highest of all the African nations.

That fact inevitably attaches the "favourites" tag to them in some quarters, something Senegal are not unfamiliar with having produced a significant amount of talent since finishing as runners-up in 2002 - their best AFCON showing to date.

Coach Aliou Cisse - their captain in 2002 - has done his best to deflect suggestions Senegal are favourites, insisting they will need more than just the technical talents of Sadio Mane, Balde Keita and others if they are to prevail.

"I've heard some say that Senegal is favourite because the backbone of his team plays in major championships," he told reporters.

"If talent alone was enough, Senegal would have won the Nations Cup for ages with certainly more talented previous generations. My certainty with these players is that they want to write the history of our national football."

Tunisia showed little to suggest they will go deep into the competition in their warm-up matches, having lost 3-1 to a Basque invitational team and 1-0 to Egypt either side of a 2-0 win over Uganda.

But coach Henryk Kasperczak has a number of players with significant experience in Europe, and they will hope to run Senegal and Algeria close in the battle to finish in the top two.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Tunisia - Aymen Abdennour

Tunisia's second most-capped player at the competition and a stalwart of European football, the physical centre-back may not be enjoying a great campaign at Valencia but he is undoubtedly one of the biggest talents available to Kasperczak.

And, with Senegal particularly potent in attack with a variety of agile and physical forwards, Tunisia will need the powerful Abdennour at his very best.

Senegal - Sadio Mane

If his nine-goal haul so far for Liverpool in the Premier League is anything to go by, Mane will surely be among AFCON's standout players in Gabon.

Blistering pace, outstanding technical attributes and off-the-ball movement to rival some of the best forwards in the world, Senegal's rivals will be looking to keep him as quiet as possible, if they can.

 

KEY OPTA STATS

-This is Tunisia's 18th AFCON participation, a tally only bettered by Egypt (23), Ivory Coast (22) and Ghana (21).
-Tunisia are unbeaten in their last eight opening AFCON games (W4 D4), their last defeat dating back to their first game of the 2000 edition (2-4 v Nigeria).
-Senegal will be making their 14th appearance at the African Cup of Nations - a record for a team that has never won the trophy. Their next game will be their 50th in the tournament.
-Senegal have won only one of their last 11 games at the AFCON (D3 L7), it was against Ghana in January 2015 (2-1).
-This is Henryk Kasperczak's eighth AFCON as manager. The Tunisia boss was already in charge of the Eagles of Carthage in 1996 (finalists) and 1998 (quarter-finalists).