Cairo, June 22: Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse believes his side are "genuine challengers" as they look to win a first Africa Cup of Nations.
Cisse's side kick off their campaign on Sunday against Tanzania and are expected to improve on the performance of two years ago, when they were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Cameroon.
While stopping short of describing Senegal as favourites to lift the trophy, Cisse does think they will be in contention in the latter stages of the tournament.
"Favourites are the teams who have won," he said. "Senegal have never won the Africa Cup of Nations; Egypt have seven times. We know our strengths and we are genuine challengers.
"Our recent results show that Senegal is making progress, but the statistics don't lead to victories. France were not top of the FIFA rankings and they were world champions.
"To get to the semi-finals would be normal for this team. Each Senegal outing is a step forward. That needs to be backed up during this Cup of Nations or it's going to be difficult."
Senegal will be without influential Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, who is suspended after receiving two yellow cards in qualifying.
Cisse, who was a player when Senegal reached the final of the tournament in 2002, is unconcerned that the Champions League winner will not be at his disposal, though.
"His absence should not in any way bother us," he added. "Certainly, the presence of Sadio is beneficial, but without him we remain strong."
Tanzania are 109 places below Senegal in FIFA's world rankings, but boss Emmanuel Amunike believes his side are capable of causing a shock.
"According to me, Senegal are the best team in Africa, but we still have our own good players who can produce the demanded results," he said.
"When you go into such a tournament, you must get a positive result to be assured of doing well and that is what we will target against Senegal.
"Do not be surprised if you see some of these so-called big teams packing their bags early and heading home."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Senegal - Moussa Konate
In Mane's absence, the Amiens forward will be expected to deliver the goals to see off Tanzania. Konate only scored seven times for his club side last season, but his record of 10 goals in 17 appearances for his country suggests he is at home on the international stage.
Tanzania - Mbwana Samatta
The Genk forward has scored more goals for his country than anyone else in the squad and Amunike will know the 26-year-old needs to fire if they are to cause an upset.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This is the first encounter between Senegal and Tanzania in the Africa Cup of Nations. - Senegal are making their 15th appearance at the AFCON, a record for a team that has never won the trophy. The closest they came to winning the tournament was in 2002, losing the final on penalties against Cameroon. - Senegal have lost only one of their last six group games at the AFCON (W3 D2), a 2-0 defeat against Algeria in January 2015. - Tanzania are making their second appearance at the AFCON, 39 years after their first in 1980, the longest gap between two appearances in the history of the tournament. - Senegal manager Aliou Cisse was the captain of the Terenga Lions when they reached their only AFCON final to date, in 2002.