Accra: Senegal are one of five African countries that will compete in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Following a 2-0 win over South Africa last November, the West African team sealed a return to the World Cup after a 16-year absence.
The Teranga Lions, quarter-finalists at their only World Cup finals in 2002, are in Group H of the 2018 World Cup alongside Poland, Columbia, and Japan. reports Xinhua news agency. Making only their second finals appearance, the current crop of players are hoping to do even better than their predecessors did in their maiden World Cup tournament.
Togetherness and team spirit are two strengths for this team. Senegal are coached by Aliou Cisse, a former captain, who has earned 35 caps for the national team. He led his side's impressive campaign in their only World Cup appearance in 2002. In that tournament, Senegal made headlines after beating the then defending champions France in the group stage en route to the quarterfinals. Cisse was one of the key players in that legendary team, who stood out as much for his strength and composure amid the hustle-and-bustle of midfield with his memorable "reggae-singer" haircut. The former captain is still as determined and intelligent as he was during his playing days, except that now he runs things from the bench.
Notably, the team has shown a brand of attractive football similar to that showcased by their predecessors in 2002. He has also impressed as a coach since taking charge in 2015 and led his team unbeaten through Group D in the African qualifiers. Cisse began his managerial career as the assistant coach of the U-23 national team in 2012; he then took charge of them a year later. In 2015, he made the jump to the senior team and guided them through the complicated qualifying phase in Africa.
At the age of 41, Cisse has the opportunity to really make a name for himself. "We know that all matches will be difficult, and I think that my players have the quality to write some new (chapters in) our footballing (history)," Cisse said after the 2018 World Cup draw last year. Senegal normally line up with a 4-3-3 formation in which the three across the middle put much of their focus on their defensive responsibilities. However, their style of play also offers opportunities for the midfield to link up with the striking trio. On the wings, the team looks to always deploy speed and in the opposition area they aim to have a target man who can link up play and is not just focused on scoring goals. The addition of Moussa Sow to a forward line that includes Keita Balde from Monaco and Liverpool's Sadio Mane has allowed Cisse to play a 4-3-3, although in the victory over South Africa, Diafra Sakho started in a 4-4-2 formation. Much will be expected of Mane who has been the star player for several years and has been compared to El Hadji Diouf, the talisman for the 2002 side.
Senegal have got a young squad with a lot of talents but they lack experience at the highest level tournaments. Mane and Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly will be considered leaders in the 23-man squad. As one of the leading players on the continent, Mane became the most expensive African player in history when he moved to Liverpool for 34 million pounds (almost $45.6 million) in 2016. The Senegalese defence is anchored by Koulibaly, Napoli's world-class centre back. He is regarded as one of the strongest central defenders in Europe after going through his four years in Naples. The Teranga Lions will begin their World Cup Group H campaign against Poland on June 19 in Moscow before playing Japan on June 24 and then Colombia four days later. (IANS)