If there was ever a time to start winning at the Africa Cup of Nations, today’s opening quarter-final in Cairo would be it for Benin, writes Reuters.
Their clash against top-ranked Senegal is their 14th match in four tournaments and they have yet to post a victory.
Yet Benin find themselves in the last eight after three draws in the group phase ensured they advanced as one of the best third-placed finishers and then a 1-1 stalemate with Morocco was followed by success in the penalty shootout.
“The thing we hold most positive is that we haven’t lost any game, particularly if you take into consideration the teams we’ve faced so far,” coach Michel Dussuyer said.
Benin served notice at the start of the tournament by holding Ghana to a 2-2 scoreline and then secured a place in the knockout stages after a goalless draw with holders Cameroon.
The small West African country previously participated at the Cup of Nations in 2004, 2008 and 2010, losing eight of their nine matches.
A 2-2 draw with Mozambique in Angola in 2010 was the only previous highlight, emphasising the degree of improvement made over the past nine years. But having emerged from under the radar, Benin have now lost the element of surprise, Dussuyer acknowledged at yesterday’s pre-match news conference.
“Obviously, the surprise effect is no longer a factor and something we have to consider. But that we are here is not by chance. It means that we have earned respect and Senegal will be wary of us,” he said.
“We have an added confidence that the results have given us, but we must not become cocky. I trust my players that this will not be the case.”
Benin will be without the experienced Khaled Adenon, the Amiens defender, who was shown a red card against Morocco, but have Hudddersfield Town striker Steve Mounie back from suspension.
“We know it’s a big challenge against one of the best teams on the continent, a favourite for the title. But we have everything to gain in this competition. The pressure is much more on the shoulders of Senegal,” Dussuyer said.
“We were not mentioned among the contenders at the start of the competition and we haven’t gone overnight onto the list of favourites either.”