Senegal’s early exit from the African Cup of Nations may have shocked many, but for Newcastle United it was a welcome surprise.
After tearing through qualifying, eliminating heavily fancied DR Congo and Cameroon, The Lions were hotly tipped to do well at this year’s tournament. But despite consistently being one of the strongest teams in Africa, Senegal hasn’t had a great relationship with the African Cup of Nations recently. Since their run to the semi final in 2006 they went out in the group stage in 2008 and unfortunately didn't qualify for 2010.
It was hoped this time would be different and their formidable attack expected to finally exercise the demons of Cup of Nations past. Regrettably at the finals the CAN curse struck again and despite reasonable displays against Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and Libya circumstances conspired against them and Senegal lost all three group games and were eliminated.
But Senegal’s loss is Newcastle’s gain as they welcome back a couple of Senegalese sharp shooters ready to help their push up the league. Not that they struggled without them. Newcastle have maintained their form picking up six points in the three league games since the African players left for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
The fact the Toon have climbed the table in the absence of their top scorer is testament to the squad. The match winning contributions of Leon Best and Gabriel Obertan show just how strong Newcastle’s bench is. But while the results have been good they’ve missed Ba’s firepower scoring fewer goals in the games they missed him than in the games running up to his departure.
However not only do they have Ba back he’s brought his international teammate Papiss Demba Cissé along for the ride. Cissé, who signed from Budesliga club Freiburg just before the tournament, is highly rated in Germany and is expected to make a big impact in England. The latest owner of the iconic Newcastle number 9 shirt will make a fine addition to the squad.
The Toon Army will have to wait longer for their other participant in the tournament. Midfielder Cheick Tioté’s Côte d'Ivoire are the favourites to win the Cup of Nations and, barring an upset the size of Senegal’s exit, will contest the final on 12th February. Although Tioté is a key player for Newcastle he’ll come back at the same time as the Ivorians playing for their rivals.
The return of the Senegalese strikers, while the teams around them are still coping without their African stars, will give Newcastle a head start the opposition will struggle to come back from. Their early exit may still hurt for fans of the Lions of Teranga but over the coming weeks their returning front men will bring a smile to the faces of Newcastle supporters as they join them on the surge for a Champions League place.