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Senegal seek place in last eight at Zimbabwe's expense
Senegal will become the first qualifiers for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals if they defeat Zimbabwe in Franceville on Thursday. Senegal beat Tunisia 2-0 in their opening match of Group B while Zimbabwe drew 2-2 with Algeria
Qualifying with a game to spare would be a noticeable contrast to their two most recent Cup of Nations campaigns.
Ranked among the favourites when Gabon co-hosted the 2012 tournament, Senegal lost to Zambia, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Libya. Three years later in Equatorial Guinea - and again tipped for big things - they were also eliminated at the group stages.
On the eve of the 2017 tournament, skipper Cheikhou Kouyaté vowed to atone for the mistakes of those campaigns.
Senegal coach and former Senegal international, Aliou Cisse, said his players had adopted a different attitude. "Perhaps we were overconfident in previous campaigns and believed the media hype about being among the favourites," he reflected. "I believe there is more humility within the squad now - a realisation that we are just one of many contenders to become African champions.
"We are good enough to go all the way and bring the trophy to Senegal for the first time. But many difficult matches lie ahead."
In the opening day triumph over Tunisia, Liverpool striker Sadio Mané and Anderlecht defender Kara Mbodj scored the goals in the first-half before Senegal withstood a Tunisia second half fightback.
"We made a great start," said Mané. "But we have won nothing yet. The history of this competition is littered with teams who achieved great results at the start only to be eliminated long before the final. It is crucial that we take this tournament one match at a time. Right now our focus is solely on Zimbabwe, who are a good team."
Considered makeweights before the group kicked off because of their 30th placed ranking in Africa and rare apperances at the Cup of Nations, Zimbabwe, leading 2-1, should have killed off a surprisingly bewildered Algeria in the opening game in Franceville on 15 January.
But the southern Africans squandered their chances and paid the price for their lack of precision, allowing Riyad Mahrez to level nine minutes from time.
But despite having the ascendance for much of the stalemate, Zimbabwe coach Callisto Pasuwa said he was positive about his team's prosepcts for the remaining games against Senegal and Tunisia. The 46-year-old Zimbabwean added: "I hope that by holding an Algerian team containing Mahrez and several other stars, we can get rid of an inferiority complex we sometimes possess."