In the Senegal capital of Dakar his photograph looms large from seemingly every street corner as the face of a local mobile phone company's publicity drive ahead of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.

El Hadji Diouf, the emblematic Senegal captain, believes the 2008 edition starting in Ghana on Sunday will finally bring a long awaited title to his country.

It's not as if they haven't come close. In 2002, Diouf and his teammates had one hand on the cup only to lose to Cameroon on penalties in the final. Semi-finalists on four other occasions Diou while maintaining this is the toughest edition yet is more than hopeful Senegal can at last deliver.

"Everybody knows that Senegal is always amongst the favourites in this competition," Diouf said before joining up with his national squad.

"This time, I think that if we play the way we did during the qualifiers, we have a chance. We have been to a final, semi-final and hopefully this year we can go all the way. I think that if we get quality pitches in Ghana then we will see some very good football. We have so many good teams in this year's tournament.

"There is Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Angola, Nigeria, Mali, and Guinea. I think this is the hardest African Nations Cup ever to win because every team has good players."

That he is playing at all will be a relief to his country as he had threatened to retire last year in protest at what he perceived as incompetence by the Senegal football federation.

"I set out the problems that I had, all those problems have now been resolved. I could say that I was a little hot-headed in my approach to those problems but I'm not in a position, nor will I ever be in a position, where I could leave my countrymen to get on without me. I want to be there, as the captain it is not an option not to be there."

His differences with the local football authorities have since been resolved and the charismatic forward says he is totally focused on bringing the cup back to Senegal for the first time.

He led Senegal to that famous upset of former colonial masters and defending champions France 1-0 in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup, an accomplishment that made him a hero in his homeland.

A hero with a penchant for the good life, his nocturnal antics providing gossip columnists with plenty of ammunition over the years. But his extra-curricular activities have failed to dim the halo hovering over his head.

"Diouf is the best Senegalese footballer of all time and the Senegalese will never forget his performances in 2002," commented local sports journalisst Mamadou Diouf.

"He's the team's icon, and when you love someone you forgive everything, you forget the indiscretions."

Although the former back-to-back African Footballer of the Year has found goals hard to come lately for Bolton and Senegal he remains the talismanic figure of the 'Teranga Lions' and is due a great Cup of Nations.