Senegal have a strong squad heading into the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. But, can they produce a good campaign at the event?

Unlike other African nations, Senegal do not have an esteemed history associated with the World Cup. The nation managed to qualify for the World Cup just once before, in the 2002 edition, with the Senegalese stringing together a historic quarter-final run before being beaten by Turkey as per the Golden Goal rule, which has since been scrapped.

Senegal though, sprinted through the World Cup qualification campaign, topping their group with ease. Pitted against the likes of South Africa, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, Senegal remained unbeaten throughout the qualification phase, recording 14 points in 6 games to qualify for the World Cup.

The friendlies leading up to the World Cup have been rather dilutive in terms of result and performance. But, with a strong squad on the plane to the World Cup, Senegal would hope for a repeat of 2002 in Russia.

Group and Fixtures

Senegal have been drawn in Group H alongside Colombia, Japan and Poland. The group is tipped to be one of the most evenly contested in Russia and it will be interesting to see how the entire group pans out.

Senegal start their campaign against Poland, the highest ranked nation of the group, before facing a Japan side that are one of the weakest teams at the event, but cannot be taken lightly. The African nation will end their group stage tryst against Colombia, a game that could end up turning into a knockout fixture for the side.

The Squad

Aliou Cisse confirmed his 23-man squad, including some shock decisions, to represent Senegal at the World Cup.

Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo, Khadim N’Diaye, Alfred Gomis

Defenders: Saliou Ciss, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kara Mbodji, Salif Sane, Youssouf Sabaly, Lamine Gassama, Moussa Wague

Midfielders: Idrissa Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyate, Cheikh N’Doye, Alfred N’Diaye, Badou Ndiaye

Forwards: Moussa Sow, Mame Biram Diouf, Sadio Mane, Moussa Konate, Diafra Sakho, Ismaila Sarr, M’Baye Niang, Keita Balde

Can World Cup heal the UCL heartbreak? (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

Can World Cup heal the Champions League heartbreak? (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

Senegal’s squad is filled with superstars capable of holding their own at the World Cup. Almost all of the players that were tipped to be heading for the plane to Russia have managed to make the cut, barring a couple of surprise exclusions.

Oumar Niasse was excluded from the 23-man squad after making the cut in the preliminary squad. The Everton striker did not appear as much as he would have liked for the Toffees in the 2017-18 campaign and his lack of matches could have led to his exclusion.

Pape Souare though, was perhaps the one exclusion that deserves more attention. The likes of Saliou Ciss, Moussa Wague and Youssouf Sabaly were chosen ahead of Souare, despite the defender having an above average season with Crystal Palace.

Despite the exclusions, there is an air of excitement around the squad, with the lineup tipped to do some serious damage at the World Cup.

The inclusion of Moussa Wague and Ismaila Sarr into the squad is also exciting for the Senegalese fans, with the two youngsters tipped to have a big future ahead of them.

All in all, the squad looks well-rounded from defence to attack. But, it is the forward line that is appetizing to the eyes of the fans. Led by Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, the forward line consists of players like Moussa Sow and Keita Balde. Big things are expected from Senegal in Russia.

And looking at the squad, they look good for it.

The Manager

Ready for the battle ahead. (Picture Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images)

Ready for the battle ahead. (Picture Courtesy – AFP/Getty Images)

Aliou Cisse had a distinct playing career. But, it is only recently that the former PSG player has dipped his toes into management. Appointed as the manager of the Senegal Under-23 team in 2013, he was chosen to take over the reins of the National Team in 2015 after the departure of Alain Giresse.

Not much was expected from Cisse, with the Senegal National Football Team being the first real managerial job of his career. But, the former player has led the African nation’s revolution and rise within the continent.

While the team is attack-heavy, Cisse has overseen the complete transition of Senegal from a physical unit into a technical one. The defence was the pillar of their qualifying campaign, with Senegal conceding just 3 goals in 6 matches en route to Russia.

Even though the attack has somewhat not looked the part, the defence has often saved them the blushes. What has been even more impressive is the team’s cohesion and the contribution from every part of the field.

The qualifying campaign showed that Senegal are capable of creating and lodging goals from all positions, which will prove lethal in Russia.

There are high hopes from Aliou Cisse, who in 28 games, has averaged 2 points per game – a statistic identical to Roman Metzu’s stint with Senegal in 17 games. Metzu was the mastermind who led Senegal to a quarter-final finish at their only appearance in the World Cup in 2002, which is why Senegal fans are hoping for a repeat of the same under Cisse, who is, statistically, already the most efficient manager in the nation’s history.

Cisse has experimented with the formation a lot in the recent times, trying out the 4-2-3-1, 4-5-1 and the 5-4-1 in different matches. But, the manager had deployed the team in a 4-3-3 setup during the qualifying phase and the same is likely to be seen at the World Cup, with the experiments not really bearing fruit.

The 4-3-3 will allow Senegal to be a bit more fluid in possession, which could be crucial in games against Colombia and Poland.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Kara Mbodji are all but guaranteed to start in central defence for the nation, while Youssouf Sabaly and Saliou Ciss should guard the right and the left flank respectively.

With the 4-3-3 likely to be setup offensively, Cheikhou Kouyate could be allowed to venture forward, with Badou Ndiaye and Idrissa Gueye forming the bedrock of the 3-man midfield.

Sadio Mane’s versatility could see him being deployed on the right, with Keita Balde on the left. Moussa Sow should lead the attack, with Mame Biram Diouf acting as an able deputy on the bench. Ismaila Sarr is in with an outside chance of starting, if Cisse fields a 4-2-3-1, with Mane in the middle.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Diallo; Sabaly, Koulibaly, Kara Mbodji, Ciss; Gueye, Kouyate, Ndiaye; Mane, Sow, Keita Balde

THT Verdict

Senegal has incredible individual talent within the squad. But, the African nation is more about the team than about one or two individuals, which will serve them well in Group H. Japan should not pose much problems while Poland have been known to be susceptible to errors at the back, which Senegal can utilise capably.

Coming down to Colombia, the South American side is one of the strongest squads at the World Cup. But, their recent performances have failed to inspire much confidence and Senegal, in all likeliness, should get past the group stage, at the very least.

Bowing out of the World Cup at the group stage will be a disappointment for Senegal, given their form, team cohesion and individual ability. Expect Senegal to cause an upset in the Round of 16, should they reach the stage.

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