Congratulations to the Senegal national team for becoming the 24th team to qualify for the World Cup!!! The Lions of Teranga have made it to only their second World Cup in the country’s history, with their only other appearance being in 2002.
In 2002 Senegal shocked the world by advancing to the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Obviously, the draw for Russia 2018 has not happened yet, so I can not really predict anything yet, but do not be surprised if this year’s squad make a similar Cinderella run. If you have the view that they are just there to make up the numbers in Russia this summer, you are very mistaken, this team has talent.
Senegal are managed by Aliou Cisse, the 41 year old former captain of their successful 2002 squad. Having a young dynamic manager who understands from experience how to lead this country to success has helped galvanize this team from an international afterthought to one of the two or three best African squads in the world on paper, and the betting favorite for the last African Cup of Nations. (they did eventually lose, though being favorite at all shows how far they have came). However, it isn’t all just down to management, this team has lots of true talent too. The defense is anchored by Kalidou Koulibaly, the 24 year old defender who is already the leader of Napoli’s backline, and they are on top of the Serie A! He has been scouted by practically every single big club in the world, including Barcelona, Chelsea, and Manchester City, and seems to have a very bright future ahead of him, especially as he is the typical modern center back, very technically skilled on the ball and good at passing it out from the back. In midfield they have some talented players as well. Their captain, Cheikhou Kouyate is a big tall man, who is excellent at tackling and winning the ball in the air, and can hit shots from long distance as well. Kouyate is one of the few West Ham players who can actually hold their head high so far this season. Also in midfield is Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye, one of the EPL’s best holding midfielders, who led all of Europe in tackles and interceptions won last season. The attack is probably the strongest part, with another Hammer in Diafra Sakho as striker. Sakho benefits from some excellent service from some excellent wingers alongside him, from the pacy former AC Milan star M’baye Niang, to the new Monaco signing with lots of potential Keita Balde Diao, and of course, the main man, the number 10, Sadio Mane.
Despite the talent that the rest of the team has, it is Mane who really sets them apart from the likes of say, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Since his big money move to Liverpool, Mane has rapidly risen from a being talent with potential to a borderline world class player. He was rewarded by being named Liverpool’s player of the year last season, and also receiving a nomination for the Ballon D’Or this year. He is a winger with great skill and trickery, absolutely blistering pace, and end product that improves every year. Today’s 2-0 win over South Africa which clinched them the cup was won from a Mane assist, and Mane forcing a South African defender into an own goal. On his day, he is unplayable for any fullback in football to try to stop, and if Senegal want to actually make a serious run in this tournament, Sadio will need to be at his best.
So, congratulations Senegal! It has been a truly remarkable rise! I will not make any official predictions until I know the draw, but with a great young defender, some very tough midfielders, and that fast Mane led attack, I fancy this team to be a Cinderella story, and make it out of the group stages and potentially even further than that. But for now, Senegalese people everywhere should just enjoy the moment, they are off to Russia.