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Saturday, January 28, 2023

CHAN: Can Senegal coach Pape Thiaw match the country’s Afcon triumph?

Former Senegal international Pape Thiaw is coaching the local Teranga Lions at the 2022 CHAN in Algeria

Senegal are among the teams vying for the African Nations Championship (CHAN) title in Algeria, having qualified for the tournament for locally-based African players for the first time in 11 years.

But what do we know of their coach, Pape Thiaw, the man tasked with emulating Aliou Cisse, the coach who led the Teranga Lions to a maiden Africa Cup of Nations victory nearly a year ago?

BBC Sport Africa has been looking more closely at Thiaw as he tries to steer his local lions to CHAN glory and make Senegal double African champions.

Who is Pape Thiaw?

A former striker, Thiaw, 41, played alongside Cisse at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea – Senegal’s memorable first appearance at football’s global showpiece.

Another member of that squad, Alassane N’dour, says Thiaw and Cisse were very alike.

“Within the group, Aliou Cisse and Pape Thiaw had a certain similarity: their calmness,” N’dour told BBC Sport Africa.

“Thiaw was a little more sociable. Aliou was more into the action, I could say. After the game we wouldn’t see much of him.

“Pape is more open to discussions, more open to exchanges, but they are two professionals with profiles that are similar but with their differences,” the former defender added.

As well as winning 16 caps and scoring five goals for his country, Thiaw represented several clubs including Strasbourg, Metz and Alaves during a playing career based in France and Spain.

He then went on to coach first division club Niarry Tally in Senegal until February 2021 before a move into the Senegal set-up as coach of the local team.

N’dour says the coaching styles of Thiaw and Cisse are very different.

“Aliou forges his team on rigour and drive, as he did when he played football. Pape’s style is more enveloped in stillness but we can still see a rigorous team.

Senegal’s CHAN qualification campaign impressed N’dour, particularly the crucial two-legged play-off against Guinea that ended 1-1 on aggregate and was decided by a penalty shootout on the opponent’s home turf.

“The evidence of Pape’s coaching are the results of the two [CHAN] qualifying matches against Guinea. They had to focus on tactics, and it was successful.”

Senegal 2002 World Cup team
Pape Thiaw (top left) and Aliou Cisse (bottom right) played together for Senegal at the 2002 World Cup

Thiaw’s coaching experience

Thiaw’s achievement in steering Senegal to CHAN qualification was notable; they had not participated since the second edition in Sudan in 2011.

At 36, Amara Traore, was the elder statesman of Senegal’s 2002 World Cup squad – and he thinks understanding the country’s football landscape has been crucial in Thiaw’s journey as a national coach.

“He has the benefit of knowing local football and African football so he knows and understands the mentality of the leaders, of the people.

“Senegal went 11 years without qualifying for CHAN and he arrived and managed to do it so we have to let him grow and let him do his job,” Traore said.

Alassane N’dour also believes managing teams in the Senegalese league provided vital experience for Thiaw.

“He had an atypical career where he was a coach for a local neighbourhood team that he helped to raise to the first division. So he wasn’t scared to learn,” said N’dour.

“He took the time to complete his coaching training and to apply it as a coach at Senegalese clubs.

“So he can pass on all his knowledge, all his lived experience from Senegal, Europe and from playing in the national team.”

Can Thiaw lead Senegal to CHAN glory?

After the euphoria in Senegal following a first ever Africa Cup of Nations triumph in February 2022, the appetite has been whetted for more trophies.

Can the locally-based Teranga Lions roar in a similar way?

“Of course, of course, we believe it. We trust him. I’m sure he can win this CHAN,” said a confident N’dour.

“I don’t know the objective set by the Senegalese Football Federation but I would say they should take each match one at a time, savour each one and see what our result will be in this beautiful competition.”

Traore says qualifying to the next phase – from a group also featuring DR Congo, Uganda and Ivory Coast – would be impressive, but Thiaw and his players need to keep their ambition high if they are to secure the trophy.

“After 11 years, I wouldn’t say it is impossible, but we have to raise the bar and we go to the competition to win it.

“If he qualifies for the second round he would have more than reached his objectives. I wish him the best.”

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