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.
Senegal’s reputation has suffered a bit in recent years: the team didn’t even qualify for the 2010 ACoN. Do you feel there is a need to make up for lost time?
Senegal have suffered a bit by missing out on the last Nations Cup. Right now I would say Senegal are 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 to do something really good.
Senegal do have some fine individuals, too. Demba Ba has been exceptional for Newcastle this season.
Demba is an outstanding attacker who is managing to show his quality in every performance. We are proud of him, and of what he is doing in England. He is winning games for his club. I hope he carries his club form into the Nations Cup with him. We’re very happy to have him with us.
It could be hard for opposing strikers against you and Souleymane Diawara – that must be the hardest centre-back pairing in Africa!
Yes, Souleymane and I form a nice duo. Now we have to make sure we are at our best level – especially me. I have to make sure I am in good physical shape.
Given your stature and reputation for being physical, do you think you and Diawara intimidate opponents?
Let’s just say that the attackers may have sore ears when they hear the names of the players they are up against. They might have heard about us already; people might have told them we are physically impressive. It’s up to us to show them that’s the case. We only conceded two goals in qualifying and we have to keep that kind of defensive record going.
You’ve been pooled with Zambia, Libya and Equatorial Guinea. Do you agree with the general view that Senegal are the group favourites?
Yes, that’s normal, but we aren’t going to underestimate the other teams. If they have qualified then they must have qualities too. Senegal are the favourites, though, 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. [Ed: He's right – Zambia beat Senegal 2-1 in their opening game, after this interview took place] 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 and we know that.
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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 and bear in mind there will be teams capable of springing a surprise.
What do you think of Puma’s new Senegal shirt?
The new shirt is really appreciated. It looks nice and it feels good. I especially like the badge on the front with the Baobab, a tree that is unique to Senegal. I hope that all those gathering around this tree will be with us to help Senegal to win the competition.
Follow Kader Mangane's full African football story at puma.com/football.