If you watched the World Cup finals held in South Korea and Japan back in 2002, you must recall Senegal’s stunning debut on the world stage. Their first ever World Cup finals appearance, the African nation played with a ferocity and intensity that helped them see off the defending champions France as they marched their way to a quarter final, becoming only the second side from Africa to make the last eight at the time. The Senegalese will be looking to recreate that magic this summer in Russia after qualifying from a group that was tainted with controversy. Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was banned for life by FIFA after he was found guilty of match fixing during Senegal’s 2-1 loss to South Africa, which was then ordered to be replayed, with Senegal winning the replay 2-0.
Senegal are guaranteed to be a handful for their opposition in the summer, with Liverpool winger and Senegal star Sadio Mané in outstanding form. Drawn in a group alongside Columbia, Poland and Japan, Senegal should be confident that they can progress to the knockout stages, and perhaps, with a little luck in the draw, surpass their previous achievement of 16 years ago.
- Sadio Mané (Liverpool) – The 26 year old winger Mané has been in outstanding form for Liverpool this season, using his blistering pace and quick feet to turn opposition defences inside out, both domestically and in Europe. His performances will be key to Senegal’s success at the finals in Russia this summer. If he can use his talent to trouble a shaky Polish defence and secure a victory for his team, an upset against Columbia could see Mané’s side top their group and get a favourable last 16 tie.
- Diafra Sakho (West Ham United) – West Ham striker Sakho played an important role in Senegal’s qualifying campaign, with his most important contributions coming in the replay against South Africa, where he netted the opening goal and then was heavily involved in the second of the 2-0 win that saw his nation go clear at the top of the group table. Unfortunately, Sakho has not had as impressive a season domestically with the Hammers, with only 2 goals from 14 appearances, and a shot accuracy of 33%. For Senegal’s sake, I hope he has saved his form and shooting boots for the World Cup stage.
- Aliou Cisse – Appointed as head coach to the senior team in 2015, Cisse brings coaching experience with him for managing the Senegalese Under-23s for two years. More importantly however, the 42 year old brings the legend of Senegal’s magical 2002 World Cup performance; he was the nation’s captain during that tournament. He will look to use his experience playing in a World Cup for Senegal to motivate and guide his players this summer.