Senegal boss Aliou Cisse said the surprise exit of hosts Egypt and Morocco and the elimination of defending champions Cameroon has fuelled hopes of a first Africa Cup of Nations title.
Cisse was captain of the team that reached the 2002 final, losing to Cameroon on penalties, and is now coach of a strong side featuring Liverpool star Sadio Mane and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
“It’s true that Cameroon are not here, the big favourites are no longer here today. Of course that gives us ideas and it gives us even more confidence to say yes, maybe this year will be the one,” Cisse said on Tuesday.
“But like I said, that’s just hope and it won’t be enough. We’ll have to work very hard, we’ll have to be serious, and that is what we’re doing.”
However, Cisse warned Senegal would pay the price for looking any further than Wednesday’s quarter-final with Benin in Cairo.
Michel Dussuyer’s side have, remarkably, progressed to the last eight in Egypt for the first time despite not winning a single game.
But after advancing in third place following three draws in a group that included both Cameroon and Ghana, Benin survived a missed Hakim Ziyech spot-kick in stoppage time before beating Herve Renard’s Morocco in a penalty shootout in the last 16.
“As for Benin, I’ll say it again and again, for the past four years I have been here trying to convince you that there are no small teams on the African continent anymore,” said Cisse.
“And I believe that this AFCON has shown that again, that winning in Africa is difficult, winning in Africa is complicated and wrong are those teams who think that a match is already settled.”