Senegal’s World Cup story began at Korea/Japan 2002, in Seoul, where the Lions of Teranga stepped out in the opening match against defending champions France. It was an occasion made all the more special by the history between the countries and the fact that 20 members of the African side’s 23-man squad played their club football in France.
Few would have bet on El Hadji Diouf and his cohorts beating Les Bleus but the determined west Africans did just that, going down in World Cup history thanks to a lone Papa Bouba Diop goal.
Keeping their feet on the ground after their stunning win, Bruno Metsu’s side kicked on to qualify for the last 16, where they knocked out a Sweden team containing Henrik Larsson and a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Senegal’s run came to an end with a 1-0 defeat to Turkey in the last eight, though they had already done enough to return home with heads held high.
It was not until 2018 in fact that Senegal returned to the world finals. Full of hope, a side spearheaded by Mane kicked off their campaign against Poland. Wearing the No19 jersey – the same number sported by goal hero Diop in 2002 – Mbaye Niang opened the scoring for the Africans, who went on to win 2-1. Then came a 2-2 draw with Japan, followed by a 1-0 defeat to Colombia. That left Senegal tied for second place with the Japanese, with both sides on four points and having scored four and conceded four.
They were ultimately separated by the fair play rule, with Senegal becoming the first side in World Cup history eliminated on account of the number of yellow cards they had received: six to Japan’s four.
Four years on, Senegal come into the FIFA World Cup as the reigning African champions!
But this time they will be without their talisman Sadio Mane, who was ruled out at the 11th hour as he underwent surgery for his leg injury.
The likes of Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye, Nampalys Mendy, Iliman Ndiaye and Ismaila Sarr will need to step up to help Senegal realise Mane’s dream. But it will not be easy.
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