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AFCON: Can Senegal finally land AFCON glory?

Senegal were being tipped by many as the tournament favourites heading into this year's Africa Cup of Nations, but a lacklustre display in their opening group match against Zimbabwe has raised questions regarding those credentials.

The Lions of Teranga needed a 97th-minute penalty from Liverpool forward Sadio Mane to salvage victory against a Zimbabwe side that sit over 100 places below them in the world rankings.

It certainly was not a vintage display from Aliou Cisse's side, but another Group B victory against Guinea on Friday should be enough to see them through to the knockout stages, as they bid to finally end their wait for a first major international title.

Quality throughout the squad

There was plenty of optimism surrounding Senegal heading into the tournament and it is easy to see why, as they have remained the top African side in the FIFA world rankings for the last 36 months, currently sitting 20th in the standings.

It is certainly a squad that oozes quality, with Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, talismanic defender and captain Kalidou Koulibaly, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye and forward Mane forming the spine of the team which would be the envy of many the world over.

Even in the absence of other players such as Watford's Ismaila Sarr and Krepin Diatta of Monaco, who are both unavailable due to injury, there still appears to be enough quality within the ranks to justify their 7/2 odds to win the tournament.

Head coach Cisse, who last year signed a contract extension to see him through until the culmination of this year's World Cup, will certainly be hoping that Monday's disappointing display against Zimbabwe is now out of their system, as nothing less than bringing the trophy home will do for this vintage crop of players.

A history of near misses

It may surprise people to hear that Senegal have never won a major international tournament, with the 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists becoming known as the nearly men of the African game.

Senegal have been a powerhouse of African football since the turn of the century, reaching their first AFCON final in 2002 where they were heartbreakingly beaten on penalties by Cameroon.

Since then, the Lions of Teranga have reached two quarter-finals, finished fourth in 2006, before again suffering final heartache during the last edition of the tournament in 2019 at the hands of Algeria.

Many of the squad from that defeat in Cairo remain and Senegal can be backed at 15/8 to reach the final again, but this time they will be hoping it is they who are celebrating and not their opponents.

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Beating Guinea could get Senegal believing

Optimists may point to the fact Senegal were able to dig deep and beat Zimbabwe in their tournament opener, but they will undoubtedly have to produce an improved display against a Guinea side on Friday that are the second seeds in the group and also won their opening match 1-0 against Malawi.

Senegal do have a good recent record against the National Elephants, as they have won eight of the previous 12 meetings between the two nations, although it was Guinea that came out on top via a penalty shootout when they last met in qualifying for the African Nations Championship in 2019.

A win for either side should be enough to see them through to the knockout stages, with Senegal priced at 3/4 to take the spoils, while Guinea can be backed at 9/2 and the draw is available at 23/10.

Both sides are likely to be without key players for the match, with Mendy, Koulibaly and Famara Diedhiou all doubtful for Senegal, while Guinea are sweating over the fitness of Saidou Sow and Ibrahima Conte.

However, Senegal will have star attraction Mane available following his late winner against Zimbabwe, with the 29-year-old now on 27 goals for his country, just two short of Henri Camara's overall record.

Mane could easily equal or surpass that record at this tournament - he may have to if Senegal harbour genuine hopes of going all the way - with the former Southampton star available at 13/8 to net anytime against Guinea.

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