World Cup Preview – Senegal (30/32)
Best WC Performance: Quarter-Finals – 2002
Current World Ranking: 27
Surprisingly, 2018 will only be Senegal’s second appearance at a World Cup finals. Their only other qualification was back in 2002, where they shocked reigning champions France in the group stage on the way to an eventual quarter-final loss to Germany.
Within Africa, Senegal have appeared at 14 African Cup of Nations finals, with their best result a second-place finish, also in 2002.
The current squad is not as good as their requisites from sixteen years ago, but there is wide belief that they have the potential to equal their achievement and cause a stir in the knockout stages this summer.
Goalkeepers: Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya AC), Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Alfred Gomis (Torino)
Defenders: Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Moussa Wague (Eupen), Saliou Ciss (Angers), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor), Salif Sane (Hannover 96)
Midfielders: Pape Alioune Ndiaye (Stoke), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham), Alfred N’Diaye (Wolves)
Forwards: Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Diao Balde Keita (Monaco), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke), Mbaye Niang (AC Milan)
- Vs Poland 16:00, 19.06.18 Otkrytie Arena, Moscow
- Vs Japan 16:00, 24.06.18 Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg
- Vs Colombia 15:00, 28.06.18 Samara Arena, Samara
Manager – Aliou Cisse
Fans of Birmingham City and Porstmouth will remember the current Senegal boss, who turned out for the two sides between 2002 and 2006.
A former defensive midfielder, Cisse gained 35 caps over six years in the international setup and captained the side in their 2002 World Cup campaign.
He went on to retire in 2009 after returning to France, before moving into coaching with the Senegal under-23s and ultimately taking the reins of the senior team in 2015.
Qualifying automatically for the second round of African qualifying, Senegal overcame Madagascar 5-2 over two legs to reach the third and final round.
There, they were put in Group D with Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa.
After winning their opening fixture, they lost away to South Africa next time out. Memorably, that result was later annulled by FIFA, after it found referee Joseph Lamptey guilty of match manipulation.
Senegal drew their next two games, but won each of the last three (including the rearranged clash with South Africa) to qualify with a game to spare.
Captain – Cheikhou Kouyate
The Lions of Taranga are captained by West Ham giant Cheikhou Kouyate. A mountain in midfield and brilliant in the air, the former Anderlecht player is instrumental in regulating Senegal’s tempo.
Having made his senior debut in 2012, he has since made 39 international appearances. He also earnt a place in Senegal’s 2012 Olympic squad, where the Lions of Teranga reached the quarter-finals in their debut Olympic campaign.
Having joined West Ham in 2014, Kouyate has the impressive record of scoring the Hammers first goal at the Olympic Stadium, in a Europa League qualifier in 2016.
Danger man – Sadio Mane
Before this season, fans outside of England would be forgiven for knowing little of diminutive winger Sadio Mane.
Fast forward to now and Mane bagged 10 goals in his first Champions League campaign with Liverpool, including one in the final. With Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool possessed arguably the most dangerous front three in world football.
With 14 goals in 49 caps, expect Mane to be the livewire in a Senegal attack not famed for goals.
Young Player – Ismaila Sarr
Though Senegal have few impressive options at centre forward, they have several impressive wingers. Along with Sadio Mane and Monaco’s Keita Balde, 20-year-old Ismaila Sarr will be looking to be the main supply line for Senegal’s attack this summer.
Having turned down a move to Barcelona in favour of more game time at Rennes, Sarr managed five goals in 19 league appearances this season. He remains a more regular fixture on the international stage however, and has the chance to improve his stock further in Russia.
Premier League Players
Several of the Senegalese squad for this summer play club football in England, particularly the midfielders.
Cheikhou Kouyate and Sadio Mane are joined by Everton’s Idrissa Gueye and Wolves’ Alfred N’Diaye of the Premier League, while Mame Biram Diouf and Badou Ndiaye (both Stoke) and Cheikh N’Doye will play in the Championship next season.
Elsewhere, former Premier League marksmen Diafra Sakho and M’Baye Niang made the cut, while Crystal Palace’s Pape Souare and former Premier League striker Demba Ba were overlooked. Mohamed Diame of Newcastle retired from international football in 2017.
In many ways, this Senegalese outfit approaches the world cup in a similar manner to their counterparts in 2002. Little expectation from outside Africa makes them a largely unknown entity in world football, nonetheless containing players capable of winning a match single handedly.
Bookies odds reflect the world rankings within the group, putting Senegal as third favourites to progress.
Looking deeper than rankings however, recent history does not flatter the Lions of Teranga. Incredibly, Senegal have won only one game against a team outside of Africa in the last eight years – and that was an unofficial friendly against Kosovo.
Three warm-up friendlies have been arranged against Luxembourg, Croatia and South Korea and you fancy Senegal must win at least two to take the required confidence into their tournament opener against Poland.
That game is the hardest on paper, and it appears likely already that for any chance of progression, Senegal must take a point from this game.
Written by Sam Hanys.