After beginning their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands, Senegal have bounced back with a 2-0 win against Qatar and a 2-1 win vs. Ecuador to seal their place in the Round of 16 for the first time since 2002. Their first World Cup would see them beat defending champions France, draw to Denmark and Uruguay, and beat Sweden, before losing to Turkey in the quarterfinals.
The Lions of Teranga would return to the competition 16 years later, beating Poland, drawing to Japan and losing to Colombia, only to miss out on a knockout round berth to Japan due to picking up more yellow cards than the Samurai Blue. The following year, Senegal returned to the AFCON Final for the second time and the first since 2002, only to lose 1-0 to Algeria via an early goal from Baghdad Bounedjah.
Senegal began 2022 with a successful AFCON campaign, beating Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso and won 4-2 on penalties after drawing 0-0 to Egypt in 120 minutes to claim their first-ever major title, before beating Egypt on penalties once again to secure their place in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
They will be looking to follow in the footsteps of 2002, when they advanced to the quarterfinals, as they face off against England. Even with their attacking talisman Sadio Mané out, Senegal’s squad is teeming in quality, with Chelsea center back Kalidou Koulibaly capable of switching the play and building the play out from the back with both simple passes as well as line-breaking long passes.
His Chelsea teammate Édouard Mendy looks set to start in goal, whilst manager Aliou Cissé could go with a back four of Youssouf Sabaly, Koulibaly, Abdou Diallo and Ismail Jakobs. With Idrissa Gana Gueye suspended, we could see a midfield trio of Pape Gueye, Pathé Ciss and Nampalys Mendy, whilst Pape Matar Sarr could also be in contention for a starting spot. As for the attack? Boulaye Dia is expected to lead the line, with Iliman Ndiaye and Ismaila Sarr playing on the flanks.
Senegal manager Aliou Cissé was unable to attend press conference and missed team training due to illness, but he is likely to be on the sideline on Sunday. ‘He (Aliou Cisse) has been sick for a couple of days now. He let us take charge of training yesterday, obviously with his instructions to the players. Hopefully tomorrow he will be able to come and be on the bench with the players,” assistant coach Régis Bogaert said.
“Beating England would be a tremendous achievement. I don’t know how important it would rate compared to the victory in 2002 [against France], that was an important victory as well. But I’m sure it’s almost as important,” Bogaert told the media. “And for all of the players, the objective is to show that we are capable of playing one of the top five teams in the world. If we can beat a team like that, then that sends out a very strong message of the progress that we have made.
Both Cissé and Alassane N’Dour were part of that Senegal team that shocked France and made it all the way to the quarterfinals in 2002, with N’Dour stating: “Africa has so many good players and talent. You cannot find a very good team without African players. We are everywhere in the top leagues. It is the time for us to improve. This is Africa’s time and especially Senegal’s time. It is time for us to come back.”
England have taken four wins and three draws in their seven meetings against African teams in the FIFA World Cup, and with the Three Lions advancing to the semifinals in 2018 and the Euro Final in 2021, they will be liking their chances against a Senegal side missing two key pillars in Gueye and Mané. However, the reigning champions of Africa have more than enough firepower to give England a run for their money at Al Bayt Stadium.
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