Senegal/Zimbabwe: Senegal Powers Through to Quarterfinals

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\n \n Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

\n Keita Baldé of Senegal shoots during his side’s clash with Zimbabwe at the African Cup of Nations finals in Gabon.

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Senegal became the first side to book a place in the quarterfinals of the African Nations Cup finals in Gabon after a comfortable 2-0 victory over Zimbabwe in their Group B clash in Franceville on Thursday.

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After an opening match win over Tunisia by the same scoreline, Senegal now cannot be overhauled at the top of the table and can rest key players for their final pool match against Algeria on Monday.

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Tunisia are the only team who can match their haul of six points, but as group standings are decided on head-to-head results between the sides, Senegal have been confirmed as pool winners and will take on the second-placed side in Group A in the quarterfinals.

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That pool is still wide open with Cameroon leading the way, followed by Gabon, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau, with all four sides still in contention.

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Goals from Sadio Mane and Henri Saivet, who netted a brilliant free-kick, eased Senegal to victory over a woefully out-gunned Zimbabwe who took until the 72nd minute to have their first real chance on goal.

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“The goal today was to qualify, now it’s done. In the first game, even when we played badly, we got to win. Today, we played well and won, and we qualified. I’m very proud of the guys, we have to keep going like that,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said.

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Team captain Cheikhou Kouyate said the team is delighted to book a knockout place for the first time in 10 years after so many tournaments where they have entered as among the favourites, but failed to get out of the first round.

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“It’s been 10 years of crying like children. This year we decided to come here and show that Senegal has grown, this generation wants to write the history of Senegalese football.

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“But the hard part is coming. We will not stop there. And we will do everything to please the people of Senegal.”

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Zimbabwe can still qualify for the quarterfinals if they beat Tunisia in their final match and Algeria get no more than a point from their final game against Senegal.

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Or if Algeria do win as well, then Zimbabwe must overcome a one-goal deficit on goal-difference to advance.

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“We were unsettled in the first 20 minutes,” their coach Kalisto Pasuwa said. “It was two quick goals that unsettled the team and our boys were jittery too. But for the two early goals, we saw some good football from my boys.

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“The Senegalese were very physical and due to that one of my key players, Khama (Billiat) was running away from receiving balls. This is the kind of football you should expect at this level. We lost, but it is not over.”

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