CHAN: ‘We will not let this trophy escape us’ – Thiaw

Senegal coach Pape Thiaw is confident his players will live up to the challenge of winning the trophy when they clash with hosts Algeria in the final of the TotalEnergies African Nations Championship (CHAN) on Saturday.

The Teranga Lions take on Desert Foxes in a mouthwatering match at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers, hoping to complete an unprecedented continental double, just one year after their country claimed the AFCON title.

Thiaw’s men could become the fifth nation to win the tournament for players affiliated to clubs in their country, if they edge the motivated Algerians.

Senegal laboured to defeat Madagascar 1-0 in their last four game on Tuesday while the Desert Foxes advanced to the final after hammering Niger 5-0 in the semi-final in Oran.

Thiaw says he is confident his players will give their all to ensure they will defeat the host nation in the biggest clash of the seventh edition of the CHAN even though the fans will be backing the Foxes.

“I have the deep conviction that we will do everything to win this match. The kids are very motivated. The best team will win this CHAN. I tell you, right in the eyes, we will not let this trophy escape us,” the 41-year-old began.

“We know the stadium will be against us. It is normal. Danger can come from any of them. They returned from Oran with confidence after a 5-0 win against Niger.”

Algeria striker Aymen Mahious has been a major source of worry for many teams in the tournament as he is the leading scorer with five goals.

Despite the threat the attacker poses to all teams, Thiaw insists they will not prepare a special strategy to quell the threat of the USM Alger player.

“No! He is a great player, I wish him a great career and lots of goals… but not tomorrow, against us (laughs),” the Senegal coach said when asked by Mahious.

Thiaw, a part of the Senegal squad that suffered a post-match penalties defeat to Cameroon in Mali in the 2002 AFCON final, says he will use his experiences to inspire his players in their preparations for the Algeria clash.

“I will use the experience of 2002 to motivate my players. It is perhaps the saddest moment of my career. For no reason in the world will I want my players to experience that,” Thiaw said.

Defender Moutarou Balde says the psychological boost they have from their coach will help them to ignore the chants of the vociferous Algerian fans.

“Honestly, the Algerians can fill the stadium with as many people as they want, we will remain focused. Only what happens on the pitch counts,” says Balde.

“Last time I heard, the Nelson Mandela Stadium will be sold out. All the tickets were sold out within a few hours. The atmosphere will surely be electric.”

With an average age of just above 23 years, Senegal has one of the youngest squads in the tournament but the defender dismisses claims inexperience will count against his team

“Kharé Kharoul diom: which means ‘There is no age to have dignity’. It is true we have a young team, but as the tournament went by, I saw young boys become men.

“They take responsibility. Some speak in the dressing room even those I didn’t even know their voices before the tournament. I am so proud of my team. To get to the final, you need character. They have that and I hope my players will show it again in this final.”

Senegal are the reigning African champions having won the AFCON in Cameroon last and Balde says they want to emulate players of the main senior national team.

“Our senior brothers were crowned on February 6 in Cameroon. On February 4, we have the opportunity to emulate them. That’s all we want, Inchallah! To write our names in the history of football and make this week special for our people.”

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