Senegal, Ismaila Sarr reaping reward of strong stance against Watford

Senegal were made to wait -- and to battle -- to receive the services of Watford's Ismaila Sarr for the Africa Cup of Nations, but he appears primed to make a major impact in Cameroon despite arriving in the Teranga Lions camp only late in the tournament.

Sarr came off the bench for his first appearance at the Nations Cup on Sunday, when he scored Senegal's third goal as they dispatched Equatorial Guinea in Yaounde.

It was the winger's first appearance since injuring a knee in the Hornets' 4-1 victory over Manchester United on Nov. 20, and Watford had been unwilling to sanction his AFCON appearance.

"We battled with Watford to get Ismaila with us," Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse told ESPN.

"We know his qualities, what he can do, can create, that he can score, and we're very happy with his entrance [vs. Equatorial Guinea].

"We have 30 players; using our bench is very important, and we knew he could already come in.

"I worked hard for him to be part of the group, as did he, and he's worked well as he came back from injury.

"I'm not sure if he can start a match, but for now we'll use him little by little."

Sarr had appeared primed to miss the Nations Cup at the start of January, with Watford issuing a statement announcing that the club had written to the Senegalese Football Federation (FSF) detailing the extent of his injury while outlining their recovery schedule for the player.

Senegal, however, were unwilling to accept the player's non-participation, and duly named him in their 30-man squad while accusing Watford of "disrespectful, pernicious and discriminatory behaviour."

Sarr arrived in Cameroon on Tuesday, trained with the Lions on Wednesday, and was introduced by Cisse for the final half-hour against Equatorial Guinea.

"While I was planning, I wanted to give him time in the quarterfinal, as we did, and it worked well," Cisse said.

"We'll continue to work like this, even though he's a starter at Watford.

"He offers penetration, he frees up Sadio Mane, and it means that opponents have to beware on both flanks because if they're dealing with Sarr then Mane can hurt them.

"We're happy with what we're seeing, and we're going to help him continue like this."

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Speaking ahead of the match against Equatorial Guinea, Cisse also revealed that relations with the struggling Hornets had thawed since the testy exchange with FSF at the start of January, and said he was optimistic that Sarr could play a big role in the tournament.

"We've worked with the staff from Watford, with a mental plan for him," Cisse told ESPN.

"He's doing well, he's worked hard to be at his best level, and we're happy to have him here, where he's integrated immediately into the group."

After dispatching Equatorial Guinea on Sunday, with Sarr's goal coming after Famara Diedhiou's opener and Cheikhou Kouyate's close-range effort, Senegal will now meet Burkina Faso at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde on Wednesday.

The Teranga Lions have twice reached the Nations Cup final -- in 2002 and 2019 -- but they have never won the continent's grandest prize.