Group H: Senegal will need Mané to hit top form
It’s just their second appearance at the finals but few will forget their first back in 2002
Sadio Mane is the Senegal superstar as they head for just their second ever World Cup. Photo: Getty Images
Who are they?
Since their stunning World Cup debut in 2002, Senegal have failed to qualify for another tournament until now. They have never been one of the strongest African teams, reaching the Cup of Nations final on just one occasion but, now inspired by Sadio Mane, they are back on the world stage. Since securing qualification they have only managed friendly draws against Uzbekistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
World Cup moment
With just one previous appearance under their belt there is only one to choose from here for Senegal but it was certainly a memorable one and it came in 2002. With star player El Hadji Diouf up front, captained by Aliou Cissé and ‘The Wardrobe’ Papa Bouba Diop in the midfield, Senegal took on defending champions France in their first ever World Cup match and beat them 1-0 thanks to a Diop goal. It was a result which stunned the world and it didn’t stop there for Senegal as they qualified from their group ahead of France and Uruguay before going on to beat Sweden on sudden death in the second round. Ultimately though it was sudden death by which they met their end when Turkey knocked them out in the quarter-finals.
How did they get here?
While Senegal ultimately topped their qualification group by a comfortable five points it was not all plain-sailing as they had to wait until the penultimate day to secure their place in Russia, with some controversy along the way. With only one team going through from each group in the African qualifying region, the Senegalese slipped up by drawing 0-0 and 2-2 with Burkina Faso. That could well have seen the end of their hopes after losing 2-1 to South Africa earlier in the campaign but that result was then annulled after Fifa found evidence of match-fixing. A replay was ordered and Senegal this time prevailed 2-0 to book their place in Russia before beating the same opposition again four days later in the final game of the qualifying campaign to put the icing on the cake.
Aliou Cisse is nothing short of a legend in Senegal after he captained the side to the quarter-finals in 2002. The former Birmingham and Portsmouth player took the reigns with the national team three years ago at the age of just 39 and so far has done so successfully by steering them through a tough qualifying group.
The main man
After a blistering start to his career at Liverpool, Sadio Mane stuttered somewhat with injuries and being overshadowed by Mo Salah but still chipped in with 10 league goals and a crucial nine in the Champions League as Liverpool made their way all the way to the final. The 26-year-old striker comes into this tournament high on confidence and ready to inspire his team.
The one to watch
M’Baye Niang is a 23-year-old forward who made his senior debut at the age of just 16 for Caen in France. Since then he has moved on to AC Milan where he has been sent out on a number of loan deals, one of which saw him pitch up at Watford and score two goals in 16 appearances. His latest stint has seen him impress at Torino and a good performance here could ensure that he nails down a place at the San Siro.
Senegal will fancy their chances of upsetting the odds somewhat and getting out of what looks to be one of the most even groups in the tournament. While Colombia and Poland probably have a little more on paper, it’s a long way from paper that tournament football is played. The last 16 would be a real achievement for the African side.
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), Armand Traore (Nottingham Forest), Salif Sane (Hannover 96)
Midfielders: Pape Alioune Ndiaye (Stoke), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham), Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
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).