CAIRO: Senegal star Sadio Mané says helping Liverpool win the Champions League was special, but his “absolute dream” is parading the Africa Cup of Nations trophy through the streets of Dakar.
The west African team known as the Teranga Lions are two victories away from fulfilling the dream of their 27-year-old talisman, starting with a semi-final against Tunisia in Egypt Sunday.
“Going to Dakar with the trophy would be extraordinary,” said Mané, who shared the Premier League Golden Boot award last season with fellow Africans Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
“My absolute dream is to help Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations – that would surpass even what I achieved with Liverpool in the Champions League.
Mané has played slightly in the shadow of Mohamed Salah at Liverpool, and this tournament in Egypt was meant to be all about Salah.
But with Egypt gone and Senegal in the semifinals, Mané has his chance to be the centre of attention and carry his nation to glory.
Senegal have been waiting 54 years for an African title. They played in 14 tournaments since 1965, more than any other team, but without winning the trophy.
“We have to accept being among the favourites and many people are assuming we will play Algeria in the final,” said Mané, the scorer of three goals so far in the tournament.
“All four semi-finalists are quality sides and all can go on and win this competition. The champions will be the team that wants the trophy the most,” he added.
TUNISIAN SLOW STARTERS
Senegal, Africa’s highest-ranking squad, will be taking on second-placed Tunisia for a place in Friday’s final.
It is the first time the Eagles of Carthage have qualified for the penultimate stage since hosting and winning the 2004 edition.
Senegal lost narrowly to hosts Egypt two years later, and that was the last time they featured in a Cup of Nations semi-final.
The Senegalese have impressed more than the Tunisians en route to the last four with Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and Mané playing leading roles in a four win-one loss run.
Tunisia drew four consecutive matches before taking advantage of jaded giant-killers Madagascar to win 3-0 with captain Youssef Msakni among the goal-scorers.
Midfielder Ferjani Sassi, who also found the net against Madagascar, said Tunisia had “gained momentum” since their lackluster start to the tournament.
The team’s gaining support, too, with chartered planes making their way across the top of the African continent carrying fans from Tunis to Cairo.
Three hours after Senegal and Tunisia kick off in the expected mid-afternoon Cairo heat, Algeria face Nigeria 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) away in the other semi-final.
An eight-match Cup of Nations rivalry dating from the 1980 final won convincingly by hosts Nigeria continues with Algeria the slightest of favourites to reach the final.
After four consecutive victories – three of them without breaking a sweat – the Algerian Desert Foxes needed a penalty shootout to eliminate the Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals.
Algeria lost outstanding young right-back Youcef Atal to a shoulder injury in that match and coach Djamel Belmadi fears he will miss the rest of the tournament.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles recovered well from a shock group defeat by Madagascar to topple defending champions Cameroon and South Africa, who had stunned pre-tournament favourites Egypt.
“What I admire about my team is that they never give up. This refusal to accept defeat can take us a very long way,” said coach Gernot Rohr.