Two-times CAF African Player of the Year (2001, 2002), and 2002 AFCON runner up with Teranga Lions, El Hadji Diouf talked to CAFOnline.com about his memories in the continent’s flagship competition, and his view of the upcoming edition of the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon 2021.
CAFOnline.com: What are your favorite AFCON memories?
Diouf: My first memory was in Egypt 1986. I was very young, but I still remember how this competition went. It was the talk of the whole country, and I remember that we were made to pay a small symbolic contribution to accompany the Lions. Everyone felt concerned, it was really everyone’s business, great moments of national communion. It was really a beautiful memory. I understood later the popularity of this Africa Cup of Nations was because Senegal had gone 17 years without playing in it.
What did the Teranga Lions miss in 2002 AFCON final?
I can say experience. There was talent and determination but only experience was lacking in our Mali adventure. Rather, we played on our quality without calculating. It would have taken a little bit of experience to win those kinds of games.
Senegal has had exceptional generations of footballers, but the record is still blank. How do you explain this?
It’s hard. When you look at the generations, the talents that have come and gone in the national team, it’s unbelievable that we haven’t yet managed to win this trophy. But I am convinced when Senegal wins their first trophy, then it would be very difficult to dislodge them from the top. Now it is clear that to overcome this jinx, we need solidarity. We need everyone, no one should be put aside. Often there is a lack of national unity around the team. Moreover, I am surprised that currently in Senegal there is lack of enthusiasm. We do not have the feeling that the national team will take part in the Africa Cup of Nations, it is not the case with Cameroon and other countries. We certainly need to change our mindset as spectators and become real supporters.
What is the difference between the 2002 generation and the current one?
The difference between the two generations is that this one has been fortunate enough to have played together for several years, and to have taken part in many Africa Cup of Nations finals. They’ve played at some big clubs and they’re leaders there. Also, they’ve learned how to win. In our time that was not the case, not all of us played for big clubs. I can say that this generation has everything to win the AFCON title now. These players need the support of all Senegalese.
Who are you favorites for this AFCON?
My first favorite is Senegal, who lost last edition final to Algeria, and today we must win. Anything we do without winning the trophy will be failure. There are other great teams, and it will be a very tough competition, perhaps the toughest in recent years and in a country that loves football. It would be a big football party.