Senegal have 14 AFCON appearances under their belt, since their 1965 debut. Interestingly, the Teranga Lions have failed to win the championship, ever. Their best-ever finish was registered at Mali 2002, where they had to settle for a runners-up medal after being defeated 3-2 on penalties by Cameroon. They have so far finished fourth on two occasions (1965 and 1990) while exiting the quarter-finals five teams.
They registered Africa’s best showing at the 2018 World Cup, though they tragically crashed out by goal difference. And so, perhaps, a continuation of that form is expected.
Senegal do have pedigree, on the individual level. The recent exploits and world class performances of Liverpool’s Sadio Mané , Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Crystal Palace midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate, Everton midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye suggests a solid core across board.
Among the players that have been left out of Cissé’s squad include Diafra Sakho, Mame Biram Diouf, Cheikh Ndoye and Adama Mbegue, but the quality in this team and the levels at which they’ve operated this season gives hope. And yet, hope is something Senegal have had before every AFCON.
This team, helmed by Aliou Cissé, must kill off the urge to be individualistic, lest they disappoint, again.
Cissé, spoiled for choice in some areas, will opt for attacking football. That’s what they’ve done, with taking the lead in games the norm. A quality central midfield of Gueye (rated second-best tackler in the Premier League) and Kouyate (not at AFCON novice) has, together with Koulibaly and Bordeaux’s rising star Yussouf Sabaly, been the reason for their solid look.
If the last AFCON was any hint, Senegal went out at the quarter-finals, having arrived at the tournament as favourites, as usual. The core of that team remains, and they just need focus to go a step further.
How they qualified
Senegal finished the qualification campaign atop Group A with 16 points. The Teranga Lions won five out of six matches, and only drew away to Madagascar.
Who’s in their group?
Senegal are in Group C with Algeria, Tanzania and Kenya.
The skipper of the side, Sadio Mané is the main man. The Liverpool forward has shown the way to score goals this season as he finished as the joint-top goalscorer with Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the Premier League. He has scored 26 goals across all club competitions for the Reds.
Aliou Cissé, formerly captain of the side, leads them to another AFCON. He was on the losing side in 2002 in that final with Cameroon. He’s hard to miss, with his dreadlocks and (sometimes, oversized) eyewear. Immortalized in a meme that shows his claw-like gesture and fist in the air celebration, the thread connecting Senegal's two glorious teams is Cissé.
Player to watch
That will be Ismailia Sarr from Rennes in France. Impressing with his quick, direct running and improved finishing, he could add up to the danger caused by Mané .
Did you know?
Two strong academies have written the current dreams into reality for most of Senegal players outside Africa.
The first is Académie Génération Foot, or Generation Foot, which started life in Dakar in 2000 and since then over 30 have made it professional and gone on to greater shores. Generation Foot was the brainchild of ex- footballer Mady Toure, who played in France in the 1990s before a knee injury ruined his profession.
Diambars football academy is the other secret behind’s Senegal’s abundant budding talents. Roughly 45 former students have become professional players; nearly a quarter of its 200 alumni. Patrick Vieira, Bernard Lama, Jimmy Adjovi Boco and Saer Seck, the President of Senegal's football league championed this vision.
How far will they go?
Senegal fans will now hope Mané can be the totem others have failed to be in the past. The spread of Senegalese players across Europe's major leagues has helped to establish the country as a leading light in African football (on the surface), but despite all that talent, at international level, Senegal's successes have been limited.
While Senegalese are wary of making comparisons between the current squad and the 2002 stock, there is agreement that both groups are characterized by the same joie de vivre. Nobody is getting carried away just yet, especially not with Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana lurking.
Yet, fans are ready to dance again on Place de l'Obelisque, in anticipation of a first trophy. A quarterfinal, at least.
- Profile by: Gary Al-Smith, Kelvin Owusu-Ansah, and Emmanuel Budu Annor
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