You’ve been pooled with Zambia, Libya and Equatorial Guinea. Do you agree with the general view that Senegal are the section favourites?
Yes, it’s normal. But we aren’t going to underestimate the other teams. If they have qualified then they must have qualities too. But Senegal are the favourites and in order to justify that standing we need to win our matches.
Which of the three opponents worry you the most?
I’d say Zambia. They are Senegal’s bête noire. We tend to have a lot of difficulty beating them. But we’re capable of beating anyone on our day with the players we’ve got. Our biggest opponent in a way is ourselves because we have the ability in our team to win any game.
Are you disappointed some of the traditional giants like Cameroon, Nigeria and Egypt haven’t qualified, or is that a good thing for you?
We would have liked to have biggest nations playing in the Nations Cup, but they aren’t there. Other teams have qualified instead so we need to prepare for the competition in the best way possible, bearing in mind there will be teams capable of springing a surprise.
How important is it for an African playing in Europe to return to play in the Nations Cup?
It’s very important for us. Every African player dreams of playing in this competition. It’s a dream we all have when we’re kids: to wear the national team colours and to represent our country in an African competition like the Nations Cup. Every player lucky enough to be included in the 23 feels very proud and wants to seize the opportunity.
Will you keep an eye on the Rennes results?
Of course, of course, because after the Nations Cup there will be a league season waiting for me in France, so the results interest me a lot. We’re fifth at the moment and I hope that when I return we will be closer to the top three.
Do you have a message for your Rennes team-mates?
I’d like to encourage them, tell them to dig deep, we have a good team, we have to give everything and keep fighting until the very end. This season we can really do something special.
Senegal’s reputation has suffered a bit in recent years. The team didn’t qualify for the 2010 edition. Do you feel there is a need to make up for lost time?
Senegal has suffered a bit by missing out on the last Nations Cup. Right now I would say Senegal is a good little team, but the bottom line is we’ve won nothing. In this competition, we want to start writing our history in Africa and I think Senegal could do something this year. We believe and we will try and do something really good.
What has the coach Amara Traore done to get Senegal back on track?
Amara is a confident man. He understands the team and he understands the way Senegalese players think. Don’t forget he was a player and a coach. He knows all about the past record of the Senegal team, he knows this better than anyone. He knows what the past generations lacked. They maybe didn’t have the desire you need to go and win a trophy together. We’ve always had the players, but maybe not the sheer determination you need. We didn’t have a team that said ‘right, today we are going to go and win something’. That’s what we’ve missed and I think this is what he is instilling. He’s getting us to play as a team, to be happy to be together, to wear the shirt, and to be a team.
Do you think it’s important that the coach is Senegalese?
It is important. He knows about the expectations in our country, he knows the Senegalese players, he knows what to expect from us… I think it’s important to have a Senegalese coach.
Are Senegal and other African nations too quick to appoint European coaches rather than domestic coaches?
I think it’s a good idea to show more confidence in local coaches. They know the country and the expectations of the people. They know what the country needs. Sometimes the bosses decide to go and get a European coach. But whether there’s a local coach or a foreign coach in charge, the most important thing for me is that the players arrive with the desire and the respect to work.
What kind of a coach is Amara Traore?
He’s a coach who first and foremost wants his team to play nice football but he wants them to remain solid at the back at the same time. The training sessions focus a lot on solidity. He wants the players to play with discipline, but he also gives the forwards the liberty they need to express themselves and to score goals.