Moscow, June 12 (IANS) When Senegal kick off their FIFA World Cup campaign against Poland on June 19, the Africans will be looking to repeat the heroics of the 2002 team who failed to make the semi-finals after losing to Turkey in the quarter-finals in extra time.
That Senegal side helped open the eyes and the minds of many to the talent available in Africa, and players such as El Hedji Diouf, Amdy Faye, Salif Diao and Henri Camara all earned moves from French football to England, reports Xinhua news agency.
Aliou Cisse was another to use that World Cup success as a springboard to England, and yet his time with Birmingham City and Portsmouth was less than a total success. He is back at the World Cup at the helm of a side which could was win plenty of hearts over the coming weeks in Russia.
Too often, World Cups can be ruined by fear with sides setting out not to lose, rather than go out and beat their rivals. But Cisse, who has been in charge of the Senegal national team since 2015, has not only returned them to the world elite, but promises to play attacking football at the 2018 World Cup.
Senegal qualified for the World Cup after scoring 10 goals in six qualifying matches and although they have been struggling for form in the run up to the World Cup, Cisse has laid his cards on the table by including eight forwards in his 23-man squad.
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, who scored 20 goals last season, leads the line with Moussa Konate, who netted 16 times in France with Amiens likely to provide support.
However, if those two misfire, Monaco’s Keita Balde or Stade Rennes’ Diafra Sakho can provide cover, along with Stoke Mame Diouf or Ismaila Sarr who partners with Sakho at Rennes and Mousa Sow.
The eight provide different options, with Sow, providing a leading aerial presence, Sakho dangerous with his back to goal, Mame Diouf a tireless worker and the young and pacy Sarr able to open space along the wings, where M’Baye Niang can also perform .
Mane is the undoubted star of the team, and his goal in the Champions League final for Liverpool only served to highlight his predatory abilities.
Having a wealth of options has seen Cisse juggle his options in the run up to the World Cup. Goalless draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and, especially, Luxembourg, where Senegal mustered 13 shots without finding the back of the net, imply he is yet to find the right formula.
But one thing is clear: if Senegal fail to make the last 16, it won’t be because they have been overly defensive.