Senegal Teranga lions will make its second trip to the World Cup this summer after its first magical appearance in 2002, where it beat reigning champ France in the opener and made it to the quarterfinals. But this team is a bit different, having established European based stars leading the way in a team that may do better than most think.
World Cup appearances: Two
Best finish: Quaterfinals in 2002
Last World Cup: 2002
Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Alfred Gomis (SPAL), Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya).
Defenders: Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor), Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Kara Mbodii (Anderlecht), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Salif Sane (Hannover), Moussa Wague (Eupen).
Midfielders: Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United), Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Badou Ndiaye (Stoke City), Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham City), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes).
Forwards: Keita Balde (Monaco), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England), Mbaye Niang (Torino), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Moussa Sow (Bursaspor).
Sadio Mane. The Liverpool star winger is one of the top talents in the Premier League and is coming off a 20-goal season. He’s as fast as they come, but he’s also wise on the ball. He knows when to cut in front of defender and doesn’t need long to put a shot on frame. He’s the man in attack for the Lions.
Players to watch
Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. He’s one of the top defenders in Serie A and has been linked with many Premier League teams because of his performances. He’s so strong and stands 6-foot-4, he can help in the air on set pieces in attack and should give Senegal fans confidence that this team can defend. Combine him with defensive midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham, and you have two fine defensive-minded players to lead.Monaco’s Keita Balde is another player to watch with his speed and flair on the wings.
The schedule for Senegal is a good one in the sense that they get the group’s strongest team, Colombia, in the last match. They hope that by that then, they already have six points. But it is easier said than done. Failing to beat a talented Poland team in the opener will make the Japan game a must win. This team isn’t one of the favorites to advance, but I like their chances if they can get something from the opener. Mane, Koulibaly and company have some serious talent and could make some big noise this summer.