Senegal troops inspired by stalwart Cisse
Senegal targeting vast improvement on early Russia exit
West Africans led by inspirational figure of Aliou Cisse
Sadio Mane key to unlocking Group A opponents Netherlands, Ecuador and Qatar
Senegal, the current African champions, has everything it takes to perform well in Qatar. The Lions of Teranga, who were eliminated in the first round of the Russia 2018 tournament, have one goal: to surpass the storied team from Korea/Japan 2002, which advanced to the quarterfinals.
The FIFA World Cup is returning to Asia twenty years after that momentous accomplishment, which may be a good omen for superstitious Senegal supporters who think this generation is the best they have ever had.
Since 2018, at least one Senegalese player has been a member of the team for the UEFA Champions League final: Sadio Mane for Liverpool in 2018, 2019, and 2022; Idrissa Gana Gueye and Abdou Diallo for Paris Saint-Germain in 2020; and Edouard Mendy for Chelsea in 2021.
The continuity of the coaching staff for Senegal is another cause for hope. Coach Aliou Cisse, who has been in command since 2015, wants to see another illustrious era in the history of football in his nation.
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Senegal’s Group A fixtures
Senegal-Netherlands (19:00 local time, Al Thumama Stadium)
Qatar-Senegal (16:00 local time, Al Thumama Stadium)
Ecuador-Senegal (18:00 local time, Khalifa International Stadium)
Aliou Cisse’s approach and tactics
Cisse, known as El Tactico by Senegal President Macky Sall, has contributed to all of Senegal's significant victories abroad.
He served as the team's captain in Korea/Japan in 2002, as their coach in Russia in 2018, and as their captain when they won their first continental championship at the 2021 CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Therefore, it is not surprising that Cisse would guide his nation's team on their expedition in Qatar.
Cisse prefers his team to play a practical brand of football and thinks a strong defense is the secret to victory. He is concerned about them being seen, even when his side is on top.
Over the years he has moved towards a 4-3-3 system that can be tweaked to a 4-2-3-1 if necessary, with speedy operators on the flanks and a well-drilled midfield unit standing firm in the centre to prevent the team from being split in two. Crucial to maintaining that unity is the holding midfielder stationed just in front of the defence.
“The coach is a real leader of men. We are his troops,” said Senegal defender Abdou Diallo, heaping praise on Cisse, who calls his players his “boys”. As Diallo went on to explain, that proximity is the bedrock of Aliou’s philosophy. “The fact that he was an international and the captain as well gives him credibility,” said Diallo. “We drink in every word he has to say.”
Poland vs Senegal MOSCOU, MO - 19.06.2018: POLAND VS SENEGAL - Senegal coach Aliou Cissé during the match between Poland and Senegal valid for the 2018 World Cup held at the Otkrytie Arena (Spartak) in Moscow, Russia. (Photo: Rodolfo Buhrer/La Imagem/Fotoarena) x1552946x PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxBRA RodolfoxBuhrer
Key player: Sadio Mane
“What else is there left to say about him?” joked Diallo. At the age of 30, Mane continues to rack up the honours at club level. A Champions League winner in 2019 and Premier League champion in 2020 with Liverpool, the Bambali-born forward received a warm welcome from Bayern Munich’s appreciative fans when he joined the Bavarian club in the summer.
“He’s a key player,” said Diallo. “He’s the man that makes the difference and wins us a lot of matches. We’ve got a really intense month coming up with the World Cup. We need players who can win games with a flash of genius, and Sadio’s one of them.”
The Bayern star is a versatile performer and can play down the centre or on the flank. His speed and power are vital to Senegal.
“Mane is so determined and he puts a lot into achieving his objectives,” added Diallo. Having come a long way from AS Generation Foot, the club where he started out, and had a taste of glory at AFCON 2021, Mane is hungry for more in Qatar.
One to watch: Nampalys Mendy
One of the revelations at last year’s continental finals, Mendy continues to impress at international level. “He’s the link that’s been missing up to now,” Cisse told the press after the quarter-final win over Equatorial Guinea at AFCON 2021.
Mendy, a crucial member of the Senegalese midfield, plays in a holding position directly in front of the central defenders, where he performs his duties admirably.
The player for Leicester City directs play and controls the tempo. Additionally, he completes a lot of effort while using his technique to recover the ball and share control.
He will take part in his first World Cup at the age of 30, a momentous event that won't phase him in the least.
Senegal at the World Cup
The Lions of Teranga made their World Cup debut against the reigning champions, France, in the Opening Match of Korea/Japan 2002 in Seoul. The historical ties between the two nations and the fact that 20 of the 23 players on the African team had played club football in France added to the significance of the occasion.
Few would have bet on El Hadji Diouf and his cohorts beating Les Bleus but the determined west Africans did just that, going down in World Cup history thanks to a lone Papa Bouba Diop goal. “When we got back to the hotel, we were channel-hopping and we saw that we were being talked about all over the world,” said Diouf in an interview with FIFA+. “Television channels in China, in other parts of Asia, and in South America were covering us – the Lions were being broadcast into homes everywhere. We had achieved something extraordinary.”
Keeping their feet on the ground after their stunning win, Bruno Metsu’s side kicked on to qualify for the last 16, where they knocked out a Sweden team containing Henrik Larsson and a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Senegal’s run came to an end with a 1-0 defeat to Turkey in the last eight, though they had already done enough to return home with heads held high.
Four years later, Togo prevented the Lions of Teranga from making it to Germany 2006, which led Cisse, Khalilou Fadiga, and Diouf to give up playing for their country.
Senegal didn't actually return to the global finals until 2018. A team led by Mane began their campaign against Poland full of optimism. Mbaye Niang started the scoring for the Africans, who went on to win 2-1, while donning the No. 19 jersey, the same number that goal hero Diop wore in 2002. After that, the teams drew 2-2 with Japan before losing 1-0 to Colombia. With both teams having four points after having scored four and given up four, Senegal and Japan were now tied for second place.
They were ultimately separated by the fair play rule, with Senegal becoming the first side in World Cup history eliminated on account of the number of yellow cards they had received: six to Japan’s four.
So what will Qatar 2022 hold for the Lions of Teranga? “Victory,” sounded a confident Diallo.
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