The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations is upon us and football stars spread accross 24 teams are ready to light up the continent.
Top matches are already lined up, and one of those is the fixture between Senegal and Tanzania, which will see Liverpool star Sadio Mane missing when Group C opens on June 23 in Cairo.
This is no doubt a relief for Tanzania’s Taifa Stars who are coached by former Super Eagles star, Emmanuel Amuneke.
Mane will sit out the encounter at the June 30 Stadium, no thanks to a one-match suspension picked up from two yellow cards he received during the AFCON 2019 qualifying matches against Equatorial Guinea and Madagascar.
“If we received a card in the qualifying round, I do not see the value of counting it during the final phase of the Afcon,” Senegal boss Aliou Cisse stated to reporters ahead of the tournament kick-off on June 21. “Caf has decided that, but we will prove that Senegal exist without Mane.”
Tanzania boss Amuneke will be plotting to take advantage of the Liverpool forward’s absence from the match and get a result which would set the tone for the rest of the competition.
Amuneke, who scored twice to lead Nigeria to AFCON glory in 1994, has at his disposal two players from the Egyptian Premier League – midfielders Himid Mao of Petrojet and Yahya Zayd of Ismaily – along with Mbwana Samatta who has scored 32 goals in 51 games for Belgian side Genk, Thomas Ulimwengu of Algerian side JS Saoura and Simon Msuva of Moroccan side Difaâ El Jadidi.
These players are among the few foreign-based players called up by Amuneke to the Taifa Stars’ AFCON squad, with 14 players in the 23-man squad plying their trade in the Tanzanian Premier League.
This familiarity among the players could count in favour of the Tanzanians but as this is the East African nation’s first AFCON appearance in 39 years, it would be Amuneke’s experience in the competition they would be looking up to more than anything else in order to make progress in Egypt.
The 48-year-old Amuneke was part of Nigeria’s title-winning squad at Tunisia ’94, which came a year after he helped Egyptian club, Zamalek, to a successful league title defence in 1993. And the Tanzania boss is looking forward to being back in Cairo for AFCON 2019.
“I am really glad to be coming back here (Cairo) because this is like a second home to me. I made great memories here,” Amuneke said on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) website.
Amuneke also revealed that he was banking on the Egyptians to show his team support on the back of his previous sojourn in the country, though, cautioned his players to remain focused on getting the result on the field of play.
“Egyptians will definitely come to support me but our objective is to prepare well because even if they support you but we don’t do the right thing on the pitch it will have no meaning. But it will be good to enjoy the support from the local fans,” Amuneke said.
Taifa Stars may have made history by reaching AFCON 2019 but they will need to improve if they hope to make it out of the group. Amuneke’s charges prepared for AFCON with friendly games against Egypt and Zimbabwe.
It remains to be seen whether the fans backing Tanzania in their Group C opener would influence the outcome of the match, especially as Senegal remain a strong unit even without the suspended Mane as the 2002 AFCON finalists begin their quest to become African champions for the first time ever.
Cisse has the likes of Ismaila Sarr, M’Baye Niang, Mbaye Diagne and Keita Balde at his disposal upfront, while Idrissa Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyate, Alfred N’Diaye, Henri Saivet, Salif Sane and Kalidou Koulibaly are among the other players who make up a star-studded squad.
The Teranga Lions head into AFCON 2019 on the back of six consecutive wins – the last of which came against Nigeria’s Super Eagles in a friendly match played behind closed doors.
Mane may be absent from the opener but coach Cisse remains confident in his team’s ability. “His absence should not in any way bother us,” the Senegal coach told local journalists concerning Mane’s suspension, as per BBC Sport.
He added: “Certainly the presence of Sadio is beneficial but without him we remain strong. Caf have decided, so we will not linger [on the subject].”
READ ALSO: Teranga Lions end Super Eagles’ unbeaten run in final warm-up game ahead of AFCON
Senegal are favourites to get the win in what would be the first ever meeting between both countries and have been given 1.36 odds, compared to Tanzania who have 12 odds to cause an upset at the June 30 Stadium, while a draw fetches odds of 4.3.
Senegal XI: Edouard Mendy (GK) – Moussa Wagué, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sané, Youssouf Sabaly – Alfred N’Diaye, Idrissa Gueye, Keita Baldé, Krepin Diatta – M’Baye Niang, Ismaila Sarr (4-4-2)
Tanzania XI: Aishi Manula (GK) – Ramadhani Kessy, Gadiel Michael, Kelvin Yondani, Erasto Nyoni, Aggrey Morris – Farid Musa, Mbwana Samata, Simon Msuva, Mudathiri Yahya – John Bocco (4-5-1)
How do you see the match going? Will Tanzania cause an upset? Share your views with us in the comment section.