Benin stun Morocco to set up Senegal clash at Africa Cup of Nations
Benin woke up on Saturday still pinching themselves after an extraordinary win at the Africa Cup of Nations as they rode their luck to eliminate highly fancied Morocco and set up a quarter-final showdown with Senegal.
"We dream of victories every day and I believe we can continue this beautiful dream," said coach Michel Dussuyer after the small West African nation won 4-1 on penalties to qualify for their first ever quarter-final on Friday.
Benin triumphed despite conceding a last-gasp penalty after the end of 90 minutes, which Morocco missed, and then playing most of extra time down to 10 men.
"I'm very proud of my team. We had a difficult challenge. Morocco are a very strong team but we prepared well mentally and luck was on our side," added the French coach, in charge of a motley collection of players including one from Yeovil Town in England’s third division.
"Playing with a man less was difficult, and we will try to make amends for the absence of Khaled Adenon, who will miss the next game," he said.
Veteran striker Mikael Pote, who was in the squad when Benin last competed at the same tournament in Angola nine years ago, hailed Friday’s victory as the “greatest achievement in the history of Benin football”.
"We've come down to earth a little even if the emotion is still high. What we did was historic, it was beautiful," said the 34-year-old, who played in Turkey's second division last season.
"We showed that we were really a group,” he added. “We know that in terms of quality, we do not have the best team. But our solidarity, the human relationships, as well as our confidence, have proven to be very important things."
Particularly relieved at the victory was Benin’s captain Stéphane Sessègnon, whose clumsy tackle in the fourth minute of stoppage time handed Morocco a chance to seal the win before extra time – only for Hakim Ziyech to miss the ensuing penalty.
"I almost did not play in this Cup of Nations because I had a long club season. But I was convinced that we could succeed," said the 35-year-old Sessegnon, a former Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion midfielder.
"It's true that we did not expect to go to the quarter-finals. On the other hand, we were convinced that this tournament would allow us to show what we can do," he added.
Sané scores again
Benin, who had only squeezed into the knockout stage after drawing all three of their group games, are up against Senegal in Wednesday's quarter-final, which Dussuyer suggested was winnable too.
"I try to teach my players a winning philosophy and we can still go further," he said.
Dussuyer’s defence will need to keep Senegal’s prolific striker Sadio Mané in check if they are to progress further in the tournament.
The Liverpool striker was again on target as the Lions of Teranga secured a narrow 1-0 win over Uganda in Friday’s other last-16 tie.
Mané struck on 15 minutes with a close-range shot after a passing move carved open the Ugandan defence in Cairo.
The striker later missed a penalty – the second time he has fluffed a spot-kick in as many matches – but his three-goal tally from three matches made him the tournament’s top scorer so far.
Uganda had several opportunities and came close on 80 minutes when goalkeeper Alfred Gomis pushed away an Allan Kateregga effort as the Senegalese held on to their narrow lead.
Along with a dearth of goals, the match also lacked atmosphere with a crowd of just a few thousand dotted around the 75,000 stadium, where the final will be played on July 19.
Scorching heat, costly tickets and a lack of interest by Egyptians in teams other than their own Pharaohs have been offered as some of the reasons for the tournament’s poor attendance.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)