Reigning African Cup of Nations champions Senegal travel to the 2022 World Cup with an entire continent’s expectations on its shoulders. The Lions of Teranga are being touted as the tournament’s dark horses. The side aims to better its 2002 showing where it reached the quarterfinals.
Aliou Cisse, the current head coach, captained his country in South Korea and Japan. He hopes to instill those fond memories on his current batch of great talents.
The African side shocked the world with a 1-0 win over defending champions France in the opening game in 2002. Eventually, Senegal lost to Turkey, which ended its dream run.
Twenty years on, Cisse travels to the World Cup with a team of world-class players carrying expectations of an entire continent. They must, however, be cautious following a disappointing outing in Russia in 2018 where they crashed out in the Group Stages. Senegal and Japan had identical records, but Cisse’s side were eliminated due to the fair play rule as they had more yellow cards than their counterparts.
Senegal beat Egypt on penalties in a two-legged playoff, recovering from the 1-0 deficit in the first leg. after his then-Liverpool colleague Mohamed Salah missed his spot kick following. Salah had been targeted by lasers from the stands. Later, FIFA fined the Senegal Football Federation for the crowd disorder. All of this happened just weeks after Senegal had beaten Egypt for its maiden African Championship.
Senegal enters World Cup 2022 confident, but Mané raises questions
Apart from the aforementioned Mané, there are two stand out players and world beaters: Chelsea duo Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy.
AFCON Young Player of the Year Pape Matar hardly features for Tottenham but will look to catch the eye along with Watford’s Ismaila Sarr. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyate of Everton and Nottingham Forest are not the players can light up a game in the middle of the park, but Senegal will hope they can play the role of supporting cast to perfection.
Namplys Medy of Leicester City is also expected to feature as Senegal line up in a 4-3-3 formation. Watch out for Salernitana’s Boulaye Dia who has already scored five goals in 12 games (as of press time) in Serie A. The 25-year-old on loan from Villarreal has the pace and trickery to trouble defenders during the Lions’ lightning quick counter attacks.
While Papa Bouba Diop might have scored three goals in 2002, including the arguably biggest goal in Senegal’s football history in the win over France, El-Hadji Diouf is perhaps the country’s biggest cult hero.
Diouf played for several sides in the Premier League. For example, he represented Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers even when he was not on top form. Instead, the striker made the news with his ‘bad-boy’ demeanor. Diouf rarely saw eye to eye with Steven Gerrard in Merseyside. Meanwhile, Jamie Carragher once called his former teammate the worst Liverpool No. 9 of all time. Unsurprisingly, that did not blow over well with the Senegalese.
Mané, however, considers Diouf one of his heroes.
What to expect
Senegal matches up against the hosts, Qatar, as well as Ecuador and the Netherlands. Most expect Senegal to make it out of the group. The clash with the Netherlands should determine who finishes at the top. Then, that goes a long way in deciding who likely faces England in the round of 16. Or, if not England, the unlikely other winner of Group B.
The runner-up of Group A, Senegal’s group, takes on the winner of Group B. That group holds England, the United States, Wales and Iran. If it is England, Senegal’s side has the capability to beat England on its day. After that, France is the likely opposition based on experts’ predictions.
Should Senegal finish top of their group, they are likely to face either USA or Wales. Beating either of those two sides sets up a potential date with Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the quarterfinals.
Hipster Predictions: Senegal finishes second in their group. Then, it beats England in the round of 16 and reach the quarter finals where they will face France. Twenty years after that famous win in Seoul, Senegal defeats the defending champions, France. It reaches the semifinals as the first African side to get that far.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Sebastian Frej