Benin woke up on Saturday still pinching themselves after an extraordinary win at the Africa Cup of Nations as they rode their luck to eliminate highly fancied Morocco on penalties in the last 16.
1-1 🇲🇦Morocco (4-1 after penalties)
Benin🇧🇯 have never won a game at the #Afcon but are through to this year’s quarter-finals.
The fairy-tale continues! pic.twitter.com/eTOCK0oCeh
— Soccer Laduma (@Soccer_Laduma) July 5, 2019
“We dream of victories every day and I believe we can continue this beautiful dream,” said coach Michel Dussuyer after the small west African nation won 4-1 on penalties after holding Morocco to a 1-1 draw following extra time on Friday.
Benin achieved success despite conceding a last gasp penalty after the end of 90 minutes, which Morocco missed, and then playing most of the extra time period down to 10 men.
“I’m very proud of my team. We had a difficult challenge. Morocco are a very strong team but we prepared well mentally and luck was on our side,” added the journeyman French coach, in charge of a motley collection of players including one from Yeovil Town in League Two.
“Playing with a man less was difficult, and we will try to make amends for the absence of Khaled Adenon, who will miss next game.”
“This is the greatest achievement in the history of Benin football,” added veteran striker Mikael Pote, who was in the squad when Benin last competed at the same tournament in Angola nine years ago.
“We’ve come down to earth a little even if the emotion is still high. What we did was historic, it was beautiful,” added the 34-year-old, who played in Turkey’s second division last season.
“We showed that we were really a group. We know that in terms of quality, we do not have the best team. But our solidarity, the human relationships, as well as our confidence, have proven to be very important things.”
One of the more relieved at the victory was captain Stephane Sessegnon whose tired-looking tackle in the fourth minute of stoppage time handed Morocco a chance to secure a come-from-behind 2-1 win before extra time.
The clumsy challenge was such an obvious penalty none of the Benin players disputed the decision but Hakim Ziyech missed the chance to win the game for Morocco.
“I almost did not play in this Cup of Nations because I had a long club season. But I was convinced that we could succeed,” said the 35-year-old former Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion midfielder.
“It’s true that we did not expect to go to the quarter-finals. On the other hand, we were convinced that this tournament would allow us to show what we can do.”
Benin, who had only squeezed into the knockout stage after drawing all three of their group games, are up against Senegal in Wednesday’s quarter-final which Dussuyer suggested was winnable too.
“I try to teach my players a winning philosophy and we can still go further,” he said.
Sadio Mane steps down as Senegal penalty-taker
Senegal forward Sadio Mane has said will step aside as his team’s penalty taker for the time being after missing spot kicks in successive games at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mane, who has scored three goals in the tournament, saw a penalty saved during his team’s 1-0 round of 16 match win over Uganda on Friday, having previously missed in the 3-0 win over Kenya where he also converted one penalty.
“It’s a momentary withdrawal,” he told Senegalese media after the match. “I have missed penalties in both games and must admit that it is not a good ratio.
“I do not want to penalise my team and, at least for the time being, I’m going to stand aside for the penalties and let other team mates get on with it.”
“When I return to my club, I will continue to work hard to improve on this aspect,” added the Liverpool forward.
Mane, who has scored 19 goals in 63 appearances, is taking part in the finals for the third time and has had a topsy-turvy relationship with the tournament.
He played two matches in 2015 when his side went out in the first round and, two years ago in Gabon, scored two goals but could not prevent a quarter-final elimination against Cameroon, missing the decisive penalty in the shootout.
Senegal, who have never won the competition, face Benin in the quarter-finals.