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2022 FIFA World Cup preview: Senegal

The long wait is just about over for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with five African national teams preparing to represent the continent in Qatar. Pan-Africa Football is previewing each African national team before the group stage takes place to provide a detailed guide for viewers and supporters of African football to refer to throughout the competition. First up below in our series of team previews is African champions Senegal as the Teranga Lions attempt to advance out of Group A:

Senegal

Profile

Nickname: Lions of Teranga

FIFA Ranking: 18

Previous appearances: 2002, 2018

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)

Schedule

Group A

November 21: Senegal vs. Netherlands

November 25: Senegal vs. Qatar

November 29: Senegal vs. Ecuador

Manager

Aliou Cissé

A native of the Casamance region in Senegal, Cissé has been at the center of the country’s rise to prominence as both a player and manager of the Lions of Teranga. As a central midfielder in his playing days the now 46-year-old captained Senegal to the final of the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations before leading the team to their shock run to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in the same year. Having missed a penalty as Senegal finished runners-up at the 2002 AFCON, Cissé finally overcame an obstacle that haunted the national team for so long by managing the team to their first ever continental triumph earlier this year.

As a manager Cissé will equip his team to play directly and to exploit the flanks with pace and dribbling on the wings from his talented forwards and attack minded fullbacks. Set to line his team up in a 4-3-3, his three central midfielders will stay compact and organized with the responsibility of maintaining the team’s shape. Senegal do not look to press high under Cissé who prefers to have his forward line drop back and contribute to the defense in order to make things difficult for opposing midfielders. In his position since March 2015, the tactician has earned his long tenure thanks to an encyclopedic knowledge of his player pool and tactical problem solving.

Expected Formation

Goalkeepers

16. Édouard Mendy- Chelsea FC (England)
Appearances: 25

Had a fantastic 2020-21 season in European football that culminated in a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations title (played in 2022) as well as numerous individual awards including Best Goalkeeper at the AFCON, 2020-21 UEFA Champions League Goalkeeper of the Season and Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper for 2021. However the 2022-23 season has been difficult for the Chelsea FC shot stopper after losing his starting position with the Blues for a two-month stretch, only regaining his spot back at the end of October. Do not expect Mendy’s inconsistent form at club level to impact his performance for Senegal where he is a vocal organizer and key leader.

1. Seny Dieng (Queens Park Rangers- England)
Appearances: 3

The Swiss-born shot stopper has come a long way since he was on loan in England’s sixth tier from QPR and has looked solid in his three appearances for Senegal. The 27-year-old appears to be Cissé’s backup and is more than capable of stepping in and doing the job, making Senegal very secure at the goalkeeper position.

23. Alfred Gomis (Rennes- France)
Appearances: 14

The 29-year-old stepped in for an injured Mendy at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, playing five matches as Senegal advanced to the final where they fell to Algeria. Has not featured for club Rennes this season, making him likely to be an experienced third choice in case of emergency.

Defenders

3. Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea FC- England)
Appearances: 63
Goals: 0

The captain of the side, center back Koulibaly is the backbone of the Senegalese team and crucial to the game plan of Cissé. While his muscular stature and physical attributes are easily noticeable it is the technical ability and distribution skills of the 31-year-old that is so important. Koulibaly’s passing from the back is as accurate as it gets compared to center backs in world football and he will be trusted with the duties of starting Senegalese attacks with his long passes to Senegal’s pacey forwards and full backs as they push forward. A big money move to English Premier League club Chelsea has had mixed results so far during the 2022-23 season but his skill set is something Senegal cannot do without.

22. Abdou Diallo (Red Bull Leipzig- Germany)
Appearances: 18
Goals: 2

Well established as the partner in the center of defense with Koulibaly, Abdou Diallo is a capable passer and all-around talented center back who fits into Cissé’s tactics. The former French youth national team player was an important part of Senegal’s impenetrable defense at the 2021 AFCON with high speed and physical attributes.

13. Ismail Jakobs (AS Monaco- France)
Appearances: 1
Goals: 0

Born in Germany the AS Monaco left sided player committed to the country of his father and made his Senegal debut as recently as a September friendly against Bolivia but it looks like he is the left back that Cissé desires. Capable of playing either defense or further up on the wing the former German youth international is technically skilled and will give Senegal the attacking ability needed to make an impact moving forward. Jakobs’ introduction to the squad is very recent but with 2021 AFCON-winning starter Saliou Ciss currently a free agent the 23-year-old is match fit and arriving just in time to play a starting role.

12. Youssouf Sabaly (Real Betis- Spain)
Appearances: 24
Goals: 0

A veteran fullback who was the starter at right back during Senegal’s 2019 AFCON campaign. The 29-year-old is capable of playing on either flank and brings the attacking qualities to make him ideal for the Senegalese style of play. With Bouna Sarr injured and a 2022-23 season that has featured less injuries, expect Sabaly to be the starter on the right flank.

4. Pape Abou Cissé (Olympiacos- Greece)
Appearances: 12
Goals: 1

A towering center back at 197 cm (6’6) who is a reliable backup for Senegal, the 27-year-old distinguished himself at the 2021 AFCON by performing excellently in Senegal’s opening two group stage matches against Zimbabwe and Guinea while Koulibaly was out due to a COVID-19 infection. Started his career at hometown club AS Pikine before moving to France’s Ligue 2 in 2015.

2. Fodé Ballo-Touré (AC Milan- Italy)
Appearances: 14
Goals: 0

A capable left back who graduated from Paris Saint-Germain’s youth academy, Ballo-Touré is set to be a backup in Qatar. Possesses the ability to get up and down the flank quickly but is an average attacking presence who lacks the confidence to excel in tight spaces when moving forward.

14. Formose Mendy (Amiens- France)
Appearances: 1
Goals: 0

A versatile defender, the 21-year-old is a rising prospect who can fill in either at his natural center back position or out on the right flank even if he does not possess the technical ability to thrive out wide.

Midfielders

5. Idriss Gana Gueye (Everton- England)
Appearances: 95
Goals: 7

A product of famed Senegalese academy Diambars, Gueye is approaching the century mark for appearances with the Teranga Lions. Possesses good ability on free kicks, leadership, the occasional eye for goal and confidence on both sides of the ball that separates him from the rest of the midfield group. Also an important leader in the group as the vice-captain. The 33-year-old will likely be at his final World Cup but his intelligence on the defensive end and ability to contribute to attacking movements eases any concerns over worries about declining physical attributes.

15. Krépin Diatta (Monaco- France)
Appearances: 25
Goals: 2

Very versatile option who Cissé will be delighted to have back in his squad after spending most of the 2021-22 season on the sidelines due to a knee ligament injury. Back playing regularly at club AS Monaco just in time to make an impact at Qatar 2022, Diatta’s natural position is as a wide attacker but Cissé used him as an attacking central midfielder in a recent friendly against Iran. It remains to be seen if Diatta will start but he will play a part in every match and could be the replacement for Mané out wide if the superstar is still struggling with injury.

17. Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham- England)
Appearances: 8
Goals: 0

The 20-year-old graduate of the famed Génération Foot academy has unquestionable talent and his role continues to rise under Cissé but Sarr has received absolutely no playing time at English Premier League club Tottenham at the worst time. Will play a part because of his two-way capabilities and particularly his ability moving forward with the ball but does Cissé trust him to start after considering his match fitness?

6. Nampalys Mendy (Leicester- England)
Appearances: 18
Goals: 0

A trusted lieutenant for manager Cissé, the 30-year-old veteran is a purely defensive ball winning presence in the center of the park who is likely to start considering the quality of opponents Senegal will encounter. A bit part player for English club Leicester but the Senegalese staff and supporters know exactly what they will get out of Mendy.

26. Pape Gueye (Marseille- France)
Appearances: 11
Goals: 0

The 23-year-old is set to be an important central midfield presence for years to come for Senegal and already has established himself as a potential starter. Very good strength for winning balls in the midfield along with accurate passing to quickly move the ball into dangerous areas, Gueye will be in the discussion for a starting spot in Senegal’s three-man midfield.