Senegal World Cup 2022 Preview: Can Senegal thrive without Mane?
Senegal players lift the AFCON trophy (Photo by Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

This will be Senegal’s third appearance at the World Cup finals, their first coming in 2002 where they famously reached the quarter-finals in Japan.

In 2018, their participation in the tournament was not as memorable as they became the first team in history to crash out of the World Cup using the fair play rule, after being level on points and goal difference with Japan in Group H.  

The Lions of Teranga will be looking to banish this unwanted accolade and build on their 2022 AFCON success, the first in their history, with a solid outing in Qatar.

Star man Sadio Mane is the centre of attention as he is ruled out of the tournament. The initial hope for head coach Aliou Cisse was that he could feature after the group stage, but a surgery is required and he will therefore have no involvement in the 

Senegal will be a part of Group A, which contains hosts Qatar, Ecuador and Netherlands. Senegal are tipped to progress from the group along with the Dutch, but it remains to be seen how well the host nation perform as little is known about their ability ahead of the tournament.  

QUALIFICATION PATH 

Senegal’s path to the finals has been a formality. As a seeded team, they progressed straight to the group stages. They breezed through their respective group, winning five out of their six games and finishing top.

They then went on to play Egypt, which created a fascinating narrative whereby Liverpool’s two man starts, Mohamed Salah and Mane faced off for their respective nations to fight for passage to Qatar.

This fixture came just under two months after Senegal had beaten Egypt on penalties to win AFCON. Egypt won the first leg 1-0 and Senegal won the second 1-0, ironically both goals were own goals scored in the 4th minute.

Senegal went on to win on penalties 3-1, breaking Egyptian hearts for the second time.  

KEY MOMENTS IN HISTORY 

Both victories over Egypt, particularly their AFCON triumph, will certainly be the catalyst for Senegal in the tournament. Their 16-year absence from the World Cup which was ended in 2018 has saw the nation undergo an enduring transformation in quality.

They arguably boast the best side the nation has ever produced, with world renowned talent such as Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Idrissa Gueye and captain Kalidou Koulibaly,, who have all played in the upper echelons of the game.

This side looks most likely to imitate the heroics of the 2002 Senegalese side, but their under-par performance in 2018, with a very similar team, would suggest otherwise. They certainly have some demons to vanquish and will look to use this as motivation ahead of the tournament.  Mane's absence is also crucial

PLAYER TO WATCH (PLAYERS)

As mentioned, Senegal boasts a number of world class talents who have arguably made them the best African team in the world over the last two years. Their standout player and Ballon d’Or nominee Sadio Mane.

His injury means the side may have to look to the likes of Ismaila Sarr for a goal threat. Senegal’s record goal scorer established his reputation at Liverpool, where he won every trophy possible and scored 120 goals in 259 games for the Reds.

Having seemingly become bored with life on Merseyside and favouring a new challenge, Mane transferred to German champions Bayern Munich in the summer and has started reasonably well, scoring 9 goals in 20 appearances for the Bavarians.

Some German critics have pigeonholed Mane into the category of ‘underperforming’, given the dependency on him to replace the catalogue of goals left behind by Robert Lewandowski, who moved to Barcelona.  

Another key player will be Chelsea’s new signing Kalidou Koulibaly, who hasn’t had the best start to life at Stamford Bridge. His usual dominant aura that was so associated with his time at Napoli has been exposed by the competitiveness of the Premier League and he has struggled to settle in.

However, for Senegal, he is their captain and leader on the pitch, so expect a much different player in Qatar.

His teammate, Edouard Mendy, has also undergone a period of decline. A string of poor performances and a howler against Leeds saw Mendy lose his number one spot to Kepa Arrizabalaga.

He has recently been reinstated into the side, but only because the Spaniard is out with a foot injury. Similar to Koulibaly, we should expect to see Mendy back to his normal self-come the start of the tournament.

However, it is worth keeping in mind that Senegal’s stars are on the decline, mainly due to their age as all have turned or surpassed the age of 30. This may be Senegal’s last chance to utilise their abilities at a World Cup

EXPECTED LINEUP 

Mendy; Sabaly, Cisse, Koulibaly, Ciss; Sarr, Mendy, Gueye; Mane, Dia, Sarr. 

 

CAN SENEGAL EMULATE SUCCESS OF 2002 AND IMPROVE ON 2018? 

The big talking point is whether Senegal can emulate the triumph of Senegal’s run to the quarter final in the 2002 World Cup in Japan.

Under the leadership of Bruno Metsu, Senegal progressed from a group that included Denmark, Uruguay and an under-performing France side. They then beat Sweden 2-1 in the round of 16 and then narrowly lost to Turkey 1-0.

Aliou Cisse will no doubt make his side aware of their heroics, given the fact that there is a massive gap in quality between that side and they one they now possess ahead of Qatar.  

 

PREDICTION 

Given that this is only Senegal’s third appearance in a World Cup it is hard to judge how far they will go. They were arguably at their peak in 2018 and massively underperformed as they crashed out in third place.  

Group A is a tricky one to assess. Netherlands are undeniably favourites to win the group, with Senegal tipped to finish second.

However, as mentioned at the start of this preview, it remains to be seen how Qatar perform. We have seen in the past how host nations feed of their fans and over-perform as a result, with Russia in 2018 and South Africa in 2010 being prime examples.  

Senegal, should they finish second, will play the winner of Group B, which will most likely be England. Given this permutation, it seems the only chance that Senegal have of progressing past the round of 16 is if they finish top.

With Mane I perceived they would finish top and beat second in Group B, whether it’s USA or Wales. However, without their marquee man I think they will struggle and risk another disappointing World Cup outing.  

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