Having reached the quarter-finals and claimed some high-profile scalps at their only previous World Cup appearance in 2002, Senegal will start Russia 2018 in Group H with Colombia, Poland and Japan.
Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United)
Senegal’s qualification campaign proved controversial, as they saw a defeat to South Africa annulled in the third-round group stage. South Africa had initially won the game 2-1, but referee Joseph Lamptey was subsequently banned for life after allegations of illegally influencing the game after incorrectly awarding South Africa a penalty.
After that game was ordered to be replayed, Senegal won 2-0 and ultimately finished the group unbeaten with four wins and two draws. Previously, they had defeated Madagascar in the second round, despite going 2-0 down away from home in the first leg. After coming back to draw 2-2, they won 3-0 in the second leg.
Senegal have only appeared at the World Cup once before, but it was a memorable one for the African team as they beat defending champions France in the opening game of the 2002 tournament thanks to Papa Bouba Diop’s goal.
Draws in their next two matches, against Denmark and Uruguay – the latter despite throwing away a 3-0 half-time lead – saw them into the second round, where Henri Camara’s golden-goal winner defeated Sweden. Their World Cup journey was eventually ended by Turkey’s golden-goal win in the quarter finals, and Senegal failed to qualify for any of the next three tournaments.
Striker Keita Balde returned from a hamstring injury to make Senegal’s final World Cup squad, while Kara Mbodji was also selected after several months out following knee surgery, albeit seriously short of match fitness. Of the players to miss out, Pape Souare and Henri Saivet have 50 international caps between them, while Oumar Niasse and Famara Diedhiou have been overlooked up front. Armand Traore’s role in getting Cardiff into Premier League has also not been deemed enough to warrant World Cup selection. There are no domestic-based players included, meaning Guinea-based goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye is the only player not from Europe in the 23-man squad.
Sadio Mane is Senegal’s undoubted star player, having played a starring role in Liverpool’s season as part of their awesome three-pronged attack. Just as Mohamed Salah will hope to carry his form into Egypt’s World Cup campaign, Mane will be bid to build on a season which has brought an abundance of goals and assists. The Senegalese squad is almost exclusively European-based, and others to have enjoyed a fine season include Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly in defence.
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Senegal stretched their unbeaten run to seven games when they emerged unscathed from friendlies against Uzbekistan and Bosnia in March. Moussa Konate scored Senegal’s goal in a 1-1 draw in the former, before a stalemate in the latter. They followed the back-to-back victories against South Africa that sealed Senegal’s World Cup place. Another draw, this time a goalless one against Luxembourg, made it eight unbeaten but they will have expected a better result in that one, and their unbeaten streak ended with a 2-1 loss to Croatia. Their most recent game saw them bounce back to defeat South Korea 2-0 – an own goal and a Moussa Konate penalty ensuring they returned to winning ways.
1 – Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes) – Age 26 – 17 caps/0 goals
16 – Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya) – Age 33 – 26 caps/0 goals
23 – Alfred Gomis (SPAL) – Age 24 – 1 cap/0 goals
2 – Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht) – Age 28 – 52 caps/5 goals
3 – Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) – Age 26 – 26 caps/0 goals
4 – Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes) – Age 28 – 18 caps/0 goals
6 – Salif Sane (Hannover 96) – Age 27 – 22 caps/0 goals
12 – Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux) – Age 25 – 5 caps/0 goals
21 – Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor) – Age 28 – 36 caps/0 goals
22 – Moussa Wague (Eupen) – Age 19 – 10 caps/0 goals
5 – Idrissa Gueye (Everton) – Age 28 – 61 caps/1 goal
8 – Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham) – Age 28 – 48 caps/2 goals
11 – Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham City) – Age 32 – 26 caps/3 goals
13 – Alfred N’Diaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers) – Age 28 – 21 caps/0 goals
17 – Badou Ndiaye (Stoke City) – Age 27 – 20 caps/1 goal
7 – Moussa Sow (Bursaspor) – Age 32 – 51 caps/18 goals
9 – Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City) – Age 30 – 49 caps/10 goals
10 – Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Age 26 – 53 caps/14 goals
14 – Moussa Konate (Amiens) – Age 25 – 28 caps/10 goals
15 – Diafra Sakho (Rennes) – Age 28 – 12 caps/3 goals
18 – Ismaila Sarr (Rennes) – Age 20 – 16 caps/3 goals
19 – M’Baye Niang (Torino) – Age 23 – 7 caps/0 goals
20 – Keita Balde (Monaco) – Age 23 – 19 caps/3 goals
Despite their run to the quarter-finals on their last World Cup appearance, we are now 16 years down the line – manager Aliou Cisse was in the squad for the 2002 tournament – and Senegal will need to write a new giantkilling story if they are even to get out of Group H.
They will hope to see off out-of-sorts Japan, which should at least make a mockery of the 2/1 odds on them finishing bottom of Group H.
To qualify, however, is a different matter entirely. They are 11/8 to go through, but 8/15 to fall short. Another story a la 2002 would be amazing, but this is a new Senegal side and Group H will be tough to get out.
Senegal’s performances at the 2002 World Cup earned them a legion of fans worldwide, but they will be hard-pressed to repeat that run to the quarter-finals, with tricky ties against Poland and Colombia in the group stage.
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Complete list of 32 teams participating in World Cup 2018 and their Group Predictions