Playing the final round of group matches against Poland, Senegal has the chance to end a losing streak of African nations at the 2018 World Cup
Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Moscow
Senegal, the Lions of Teranga, reached the quarter-finals in their maiden appearance at the World Cup in 2002. They are back in the world’s premier competition after a 16-year absence. But it will be difficult for them to replicate what the late Bruno Metsu’s side achieved in Japan-South Korea.
This is not only because the African outfit is in a relatively tougher Group H with Poland (ranked 8), Colombia (16) and Japan (61). Quite obviously, Poland led by Robert Lewandowski and Colombia coached by Jose Pekerman are tipped to advance from the group.
Senegal has one more issue to tackle – to keep the African flag flying. Before they take on Poland at the Otkritie Arena at Spartak, Moscow, all the African nations would have lost their first matches in Russia. It all started with Uruguay beating Egypt without Mohamed Salah, 1-0. Then Morocco, unfortunately, conceded an own goal to Iran and Croatia destroyed Nigeria 2-0. Tunisia fought like anything but conceded in the last moment to lose 1-2 to England.
Will Senegal be able to do something to boost the continent’s morale?
Senegal manager, Aliou Cisse, believes that a day will soon come when one of the African nations will win the World Cup. “I am sure Senegal, Nigeria or any other team from Africa will be able to win the World Cup like Brazil and Germany and we have no complexes about this. In all the best club teams in Europe, you will find Africans playing. We need more African coaches.”
Cisse is the only black coach at the World Cup and he did not like it when a journalist asked him to comment on this.
“Football is united by the world. Yes, I am the only black coach at the World Cup, but the colour of my skin is not at all important. We are here because we deserve to be here. We have qualified for the World Cup and we are prepared to play our first match against Poland on Tuesday – that’s what I want to know,” said Cisse.
The country which got its independence from France in 1960 had its football culture totally changed under a Frenchman, Bruno Metsu. With footballers like El Hadji Diouff, Papa Bouba Diop, and Henri Camara, it was a sensational campaign in 2002 for Senegal.
Diouff came to Moscow for a ‘Legends’ football tournament. When asked to comment on Senegal’s chances at the 2018 World Cup, he said, “Sadio Mane will be the key for us. He is a good player who needs to show his potential in this show-piece event to become world-class. He has to remember that top players perform even better on the biggest stage.”
In fact, the footballer from Liverpool will be the talk of the town before their World Cup opener against Poland since Senegal will have to face an in-form Robert Lewandowski during the match.
Their coach Cisse had no doubts either. “Sadio (Mane) is already one of the best. You cannot deny that. He plays for an iconic club in Europe, one of the best and he helped his club to reach the Champions League final. He is unpredictable and that is the best quality he possesses. He can make the difference with a goal or a decisive pass.”
The match is already billed as the contest between Bayern Munich’s Lewa and Liverpool’s Mane. But it definitely has more on the cards than these two.