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Senegal advance to last eight for first time since 2006

Sadio Mané scored Senegal's first goal against Zimbabwe. RFI/Pierre René-Worms

Senegal skipper Cheikhou Kouyate spoke of his pride on Thursday night as he became the first captain for 11 years to lead a team into the last eight at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Senegal are Africa’s top ranked team and among several sides tipped to lift the trophy on 5 February. But titles were expected of the Senegal teams in the 2012 and 2015 competitions. Both of those squads were eliminated after the group stages.

"It’s been 11 years that we’ve been suffering," said the West Ham United midfielder. "But we decided this year to come and show that we’ve grown up and that this generation wants to create history.”

Senegal were 2-0 up within 13 minutes. Sadio Mané struck his second goal of the tournament to give them the lead and Henri Saivet scored direct from a free-kick.

The victory – coupled with Tunisia’s 2-1 defeat of Algeria – means Senegal will advance as Group B winners and will face the runner-up from Group A in Franceville on 28 January.

"Harder things are on their way," added Kouyate. “But the first thing was to get out of the group."

Since finishing fourth in 2006, the Senegalese failed to qualify for the 2010 and 2013 competitions. When they did reach the finals in 2008, 2012 and 2015, they underperformed. "The goal against Zimbabwe was to qualify and we have done that," said Senegal coach Aliou Cissé. "It's been 11 years since we last made the quarter-finals. Now we have done it and I congratulate the players. I am very proud of the guys. Now we have to continue like this."

Despite the defeat, Zimbabwe have a chance of progress. On 23 January, they must beat Tunisia and hope that Senegal overcome Algeria. Zimbabwe coach Callisto Pasuwa said: "We came here knowing that there would be three matches to play. We’ve lost against Senegal. But it’s not over and nothing is ever over when there is hope.”