African champions Senegal carry the continent’s best prospect of breaking barriers at the World Cup finals and hope to atone for a miserable last tournament in Russia where they were eliminated on disciplinary points.
Senegal are one of three African nations who have reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup, following Cameroon’s 1990 exploits with a dream debut in 2002, which included beating holders France in the opening game of the tournament.
Ghana also progressed to the last eight in 2010 but that was the last time Africa proved able to make an impression on the tournament.
In Russia four years ago, all five of the continent’s representatives went out in the first round, including Senegal, who were tied with Japan but lost out because they had collected more bookings in their opening three games.
The team has had a significant overhaul since, boosted by a contingent of French-born players, including goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, defender Abdou Diallo and midfielders Pape Gueye and Nampalys Mendy.
Senegal have put much effort into recruiting players from the growing European-based diaspora, contributing to their winning the African title for the first time in February.
But it was stalwarts such as captain Kalildou Koulibaly, Sadio Mane and Idrissa Gana Gueye who proved the backbone of their Africa Cup of Nations triumph, and will likely provide the driving force for the team in Qatar too.
One drawback is that many regulars lack game time at club level this season but coach Aliou Cisse is putting on a brave face. This is a factor we anticipated. There is nothing alarming, we are not panicking” he said.
He will be looking for a bit more than match fitness if Senegal are to have any chance of emerging from their first-round group, where they take on the Netherlands first on Nov. 21, followed by hosts Qatar and then Ecuador.
For Cisse, the key ingredient for potential success is team spirit. I think that’s the strength of this national team there. Beyond the intrinsic qualities, the footballing qualities, there is above all this support in this team, this solidarity, this love” the coach said.
If we won the Cup of Nations, it is because of all these values that surround this team. The pleasure when they are together is fantastic.”