'We need African coaches for our football to move ahead' - Cisse
For Aliou Cisse the opportunity that awaits in Russia is about rather more than simply cementing his place in Senegalese football folklore.
No African team have progressed further than the international team he captained to the quarter-finals in 2002 and, upon arriving here yesterday for the match against Poland, the former Birmingham City and Portsmouth defender highlighted a specific shortcoming.
"I am certain that one day an African country will win the World Cup," he said. "It was some 25 years ago that African countries regularly came just to be a part of the World Cup.
"I think that things have developed but it's more complicated in our continent - we have realities that are not evident in other continents. We trust our football, we have no complex, we have great players, now we need African coaches for our football to go ahead."
To that end, Cisse is acutely aware of the lack of black managers across world football and how Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt are respectively led by coaches from Germany, France and Argentina. England are among those nations with much work to do. Only five black former England players have ever got a managerial job in the top five leagues and Cisse, 42, talked yesterday of "representing" a new generation.
It is not only Cisse's appointment that is significant amid the backdrop of Europeans so often coaching African teams, but a Senegalese backroom staff that includes Tony Sylva and Omar Daf, his team-mates in the 2002 World Cup squad, and Lamine Diatta, the former Rennes, Lyon and Newcastle defender.
Cisse also specifically cited the work of Florent Ibenge, who is not at the World Cup, but led the Democratic Republic of the Congo to victory in the 2016 African Cup of Nations.
"It's true that I am the only black coach in this World Cup," he said.
"Football is a universal sport. It is good to see there is a black coach but, beyond football, it shows we have quality coaches. I represent a new generation that would like to have its place in African and world football.
"I am happy also for Florent, who has done outstanding work. Beyond being good players, we are very good in our tactics and have the right to be part of the top international matches."
Cisse first coached a team when he was still playing. He had lost 11 members of his family in the Joola ferry disaster and helped organise a charity match against Nigeria. He began working with the Senegal Under-23 squad while aged only 33 and led an exciting young team to the quarter-finals of the 2012 London Olympics, where they were only beaten in extra-time by eventual winners Mexico.
Senegal also went unbeaten through qualification for this World Cup.
Cisse cites Bruno Metsu, the Senegal coach in 2002 when they famously beat France en route to the quarter-finals, as his inspiration. Metsu died of cancer in 2013 and Cisse drew upon his influence ahead of training at the Spartak Stadium yesterday.
"It is important to think of Bruno," he said. "I know he is looking at us and we can feel his energy."
His major on-field force is Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, who Cisse rates alongside any of the very best attacking talents at this World Cup.
"Sadio is a unique player - we can't compare him to any other Senegal players, even if we have some major ones," he said. "I don't want to say that he could become one of the best players in the world; he is already one of the best. Everything that has occurred to him in the last two or three years might have changed him, but he is just as humble and respectful as when I first met him."
Senegal are captained by West Ham midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and what this World Cup means to Cisse has become very evident to his players over recent days.
"He started crying the other day, it was very emotional - he is very hard working, always supporting us and it is an additional motivation for us," said Kouyate.
Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt have all begun with defeats but Cisse is confident that Senegal can again ensure that an African nation does contend over the next four weeks.
"The 2002 team gave a lot of joy and I think the present team will do the same," said Cisse. (© Daily Telegraph, London)