PAPISS Cissé has warned Newcastle team-mate Cheick Tioté not to expect an easy ride when Senegal meet Ivory Coast tonight – in a match with huge ramifications back home in Tyneside.
Senegal are attempting to overturn a two-goal deficit from September’s first leg, with the winner of the Dakar clash heading to the African Cup of Nations at the turn of the year.
Despite their obvious affection for Cissé (pictured right), Magpies fans would be forgiven for fearing a Senegal victory, which could rule both Newcastle’s number nine and fellow striker Demba Ba out of the January programme and into February.
The tournament, which has been moved to 2013 prevent it clashing with the next World Cup, runs from January 19 to February 10.
With few other senior striking options, Senegal’s qualification would leave Newcastle looking exposed unless they dipped into the transfer market. By contrast Tioté’s absence may offer an opportunity to Gaël Bigirimana, who has looked excellent in his first few appearances for Newcastle.
If the match is going to be keenly observed in the North East, it is Africa’s biggest game on a weekend of significant fixtures on the road to South Africa.
“It is obviously going to be difficult - we’re 4-2 down from the first leg, which is disappointing,” he told The Journal. “The Ivory Coast are a good team and of course they have Cheick in this game, and I know how good he is. But we have good players too.
“Anything is possible in football though and two goals is not all that much in our game, especially if we start well. We will fight until the end and we are at home, they have to come to our place.”
Boss Alan Pardew will certainly be watching on with interest and, while he has insisted he is “neutral”, there is no doubt that losing both of his strikers would be a significant blow at a potentially critical point of the season. Cissë says that he is conflicted, but must do his best for Senegal. “It is a huge honour to play for my country and of course I want to have success with both Newcastle and Senegal. I hope the supporters can understand,” he said.
Cissë told reporters in Senegal this week that he wanted the public to get behind the team. There will be added intrigue with Ba, who was a substitute last month and hinted at discontent on his Twitter role, set to start this match.
“Playing Ivory Coast here on Saturday will require talent and mental strength above the average, which we the players have,” Cissë said.
“And I believe the outcome of the match will depend on small details like mistakes on the part of one side or the other. That is why I’m reiterating my call to all Senegalese to come forth and show support because this game is not just for the players, but for the whole nation.”
Injury to one of their key men would be Newcastle’s worst nightmare, but Pardew has at least delivered some positive news on that front.
He thinks key trio Steven Taylor (pictured right), Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul will all be fine for the Wear-Tyne derby against Sunderland and has also allayed fears Yohan Cabaye and Shane Ferguson will be ruled out of the Wearside clash. Cabaye has been sitting out training with France because of “abdominal pains”.
“Shane Ferguson stayed behind (rather than join up with Northern Ireland for their game in Portugal on Tuesday). Hopefully after a week’s treatment he will be okay. Yohan Cabaye is with France, but I think he’ll be fine,” he said. “Everybody else we hope to see on Wednesday. Steven, Colo and Tim will train, but we’ll see.”