CAIRO, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Senegal forward El Hadji Diouf says his team are out to make amends for failing to qualify for the World Cup by winning the African Nations Cup for the first time.
Senegal revelled in being on the world's biggest stage in 2002, beating then World Cup holders France in the group stages and going on to reach the quarter-finals.
Their surprise failure to even qualify for 2006 in Germany has hit the country hard and the team's former African Footballer of the Year is all too well aware of expectations back home.
'People in Senegal are very angry that we've missed out on the World Cup,' Diouf told reporters after a kit launch late on Thursday.
'The biggest present I could give my country now would be to win this Cup...it's the best way to make amends.'
Succeeding in that task would be a first for Senegal, whose best showing so far at a Nations Cup was to reach the final in 2002 in Mali, where they lost on penalties to Cameroon after twice hitting the woodwork.
Diouf tried to look on the positive side of the Lions of Teranga's failure to book their ticket to Germany, saying: 'Sometimes you need a push to reach an objective.
'Today, we're very disappointed not to be qualified for the World Cup. Now all that counts is to show that we are hungry, that we want this Nations Cup.
'As they say 'A lion is never dead, it is only wounded'. Now it's down to us to show that we are real lions.'
Diouf and his team mates will certainly need to use their claws if they are to emerge from Group D, the toughest of the four at the 16-nation tournament starting on Friday.
Nigeria, who also failed to reach the World Cup, and Ghana, who did qualify, will also be looking for one of two places in the quarter-finals from Group D, leaving little hope for Senegal's first opponents on Monday, Zimbabwe.
Diouf left the last Nations Cup under a cloud, receiving a three-match ban for fighting after his side were knocked out in the quarter-finals by the hosts and future tournament winners, Tunisia.
However, past problems and the current debate over the release of African players by European clubs are not subjects on which Diouf wants to dwell.
Though released by Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce, Diouf said: 'I know it's difficult, I know the manager is not that happy, that he would prefer that I stayed at Bolton.
'But I'm African and I play for my national team. If I can't come, it's a big problem for Senegal.
'Sam is very intelligent. He has confidence in me that I will work hard here - but that when I go back I will give him a lot of good games.'