Aliou Cisse urged Senegal to seize the initiative and end the nation’s long wait for an Africa Cup of Nations title.
The Lions of Teranga, who have never previously won the continental competition, take on Benin in Cairo on Wednesday with a place in the semi-finals on the line.
This year’s tournament is wide open following the shock exits of a much-fancied Morocco, hosts Egypt and defending champions Cameroon in the first knockout round.
And after overcoming Uganda in the last 16 thanks to Sadio Mane’s 15th-minute goal, Cisse is eager for the 2002 runners-up to prolong their run and make history.
“It’s true that Cameroon are not here, the big favourites are no longer here today,” he told reporters. “Of course, that gives us ideas and it gives us even more confidence to say yes, maybe this year will be the one.
“But like I said, that’s just hope, and it won’t be enough. We’ll have to work very hard, we’ll have to be serious, and that is what we’re doing.”
Benin were responsible for one of the giant killings in the last round as they beat Morocco, a side 41 places above them in the latest FIFA rankings, on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
The Squirrels drew all three of their group matches prior to knocking out Morocco but boss Michel Dussuyer insisted their run to the last eight has not been a fluke.
“Our presence at this stage is not out of luck. We have worked hard and I believe in my players,” Dussuyer said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Senegal – Sadio Mane
The Liverpool forward has registered Senegal’s last three goals and he joint-leads the AFCON scoring charts, level with Adam Ounas, Cedric Bakambu and Odion Ighalo. However, he has missed two of his three penalties in Egypt.
Benin – Cebio Soukou
Benin have scored three times in their four matches and Hansa Rostock midfielder Soukou has delivered two assists, including the opener for Moise Adilehou in the last round.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This will be the first encounter between Senegal and Benin in the Africa Cup of Nations.
– Senegal have progressed from two of their previous seven quarter-finals, while Benin are competing at this stage for the first time.
– Benin are the team that have played the most Africa Cup of Nations games without winning (13 – D5 L8).