On the eve of the Africa Cup of Nations, Kalidou Koulibaly leans ahead and makes an enormous assertion. “This AFCON can be probably the greatest,” he tells Sky Sports activities from Senegal’s camp within the Ivory Coast.
It’s maybe uncommon for the captain of the event holders to lavish reward on his staff’s competitors. However that simply sums up the AFCON spirit. This competitors just isn’t about Senegal, nor every other nation. It is an opportunity for all the continent to point out its high quality by itself stage.
This unity has been seen in latest World Cups: all the continent getting behind Ghana in 2010 because the final African staff standing. The identical with Morocco – who turned the primary African facet to ever attain the final 4 in Qatar 2022.
Now Africa stands as one once more amid latest upheaval in its continental competitors. It was moved again to the winter two years in the past as a result of an incapability to play in the summertime warmth, thereby mentioning the mid-season ‘membership vs nation’ row. However the variety of high quality gamers out within the Ivory Coast proper now exhibits the worth of this event.
“Us older gamers, we now have to be proud to be African and to respect our nationwide staff and play for our nationwide staff,” says Koulibaly.
“For me, Africa would be the future. I hope all people is aware of that and they’re going to do every part to make African soccer go up.
“For me, it is not nearly Senegal, it is about Africa. We’ve to work collectively to make the extent of Africa go up.
“We are able to see that within the World Cup with Morocco going into the semi-finals. Everybody was completely happy, however for me it was regular as a result of we deserved it. We are able to present sooner or later that African groups might be able to win a World Cup quickly.”
Proper now, nonetheless, the pondering is on AFCON and this event’s predominant magnificence is its unpredictability. Not like the ever-popular World Cup, no staff has ever gained it twice in a row and present holders Senegal, together with their captain, settle for this narrative.
“We give it some thought – however we all know that each AFCON has its story. Now it is a new story as a result of you’ve gotten a variety of groups who can be able to win the title. We need to be a part of these groups,” provides Koulibaly.
“We all know will probably be actually troublesome for us as a result of no one needs a staff to win it two instances in a row. However we need to make it the story in our nation.
“It is going to be very troublesome as a result of Cameroon, Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria – all people is prepared for this competitors. For a very long time, we’ve not seen so lots of the huge groups so in type.
“We will see good competitors and degree – and the winner of this AFCON may have a variety of success sooner or later.
“We’ve a variety of groups which we’re 100 per cent positive of, however some groups we’re not. As a result of in AFCON, it is not straightforward. You might have the temperature, the local weather, the pitch, the time of whenever you play, we must take every part into consideration.
“So I am unable to inform you if we’re higher than two years in the past, however for positive we’re extra skilled. That is positive. The remainder? We’ll see on the finish of the competitors. However I feel Senegal have what it takes to see out AFCON.”
Senegal in solidarity as Jackson approaches huge stage
Unity was additionally the secret for Senegal two years in the past in Cameroon, as Koulibaly led his staff to its first-ever AFCON title.
The defender, alongside goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and others, missed the primary two video games as a result of a coronavirus outbreak amongst a few of the squad. It threatened to derail their marketing campaign, however the method of restoration was one of many huge classes realized.
Requested concerning the secrets and techniques to their success, Koulibaly replies: “The solidarity. We had a variety of difficulties initially of the final AFCON.
“We had Covid so a variety of gamers have been absent for the primary video games. We missed 4 or 5 gamers from the 2 first video games, it was actually troublesome.
“It was actually troublesome watching these video games in my room, alone with Edouard Mendy. However right this moment, solidarity will assist us win the title and to win video games.”
Maybe this 12 months, that solidarity can be useful for Nicolas Jackson, a striker wanting and wasteful at Chelsea this season. The ahead joins Koulibaly, previously of the Blues himself, within the Senegal squad for this tournamenet – however there’s sympathy from the nationwide staff captain about life at Stamford Bridge.
“I do know that at Chelsea, it is troublesome to be a striker right this moment,” he says. “I used to be there final 12 months and noticed it was very troublesome to attain targets, and he has seven already? You’ll be able to see it is a good begin for him.
“Perhaps persons are ready for extra from him, however do not forget he is a younger participant and it is a first 12 months for him within the Premier League.
“We within the nationwide staff give him a variety of recommendation. Me and Edouard Mendy, who was additionally at Chelsea, we all know what the membership is like and we all know the persons are there and we all know he may have a terrific future over there if he retains working like he was working. Not talking, simply working – that is the important thing.
“We all know the massive golf equipment, they need a variety of issues from strikers as a result of Chelsea have a variety of good historical past with strikers – Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o. These gamers have been superb and right this moment they’re searching for the historic striker and it is troublesome to provide that work to Nico.”
‘You’ll be able to play in Saudi and be aggressive’
Two years in the past, Senegal’s captain, goalkeeper and star participant have been all enjoying at Champions League-level golf equipment. Now Koulibaly, Mendy and Sadio Mane all ply their trades in Saudi Arabia.
Koulibaly, of present Saudi top-flight leaders Al Hilal, was one of many first gamers in Europe to leap throughout to the Center East nation – and now he needs to be the primary to point out that such a transfer can assist affect success on the worldwide stage.
“Everybody was pondering: ‘nah, he is ended up in Saudi Arabia, will probably be straightforward. He’ll simply go to coaching, take the cash and go residence’. However it’s not like this,” Koulibaly says.
“After I signed there, it was first to win titles with my membership. Secondly, it was about having video games to play – as I used to be not enjoying lots at Chelsea. It was troublesome for me to point out my degree, a participant used to enjoying each sport, enjoying one sport sure and 4 video games no. The third purpose was the mission of the Saudi Arabia league.
“We are able to see that everyone is completely happy, Sadio is completely happy in his membership, Edou is simply too. An important is to deliver this positivity to the nationwide staff and for us it is vital. Persons are writing a variety of issues about us, we now have to point out them that it’s not a trip in Saudi Arabia – but it surely was working to be prepared for this AFCON.
“I will not misinform you, it is a possibility to point out all people you can play in Saudi Arabia and win titles along with your nationwide groups. All people was asking questions after we signed over there – however after they see the extent we now have within the nationwide staff, we now have the identical because the others.
“Our goal is to win the AFCON – will probably be troublesome, we all know it – and we’ll give every part for this goal. However my second goal is to point out that in Saudi Arabia, you may play in league with a variety of good gamers and be aggressive within the nationwide staff.”
Kalidou Koulibaly spoke to Sky Sports activities representing PUMA, who’ve signed long-term settlement to turn out to be the official technical associate of CAF. PUMA can be supplying the official match ball at CAF tournaments, offering the equipment for referees, and fascinating in a number of advertising alternatives, each inside and outdoors of the stadium.
Watch each match of this 12 months’s Africa Cup of Nations dwell on Sky Sports activities, together with Senegal’s opening match vs Gambia on Monday, kick-off 2pm