After a strong showing in the AFCON 2022 tournament and defeating Egypt in a shootout in the qualifiers, the Senegal national team captured a spot in the World Cup. Landing in Group A, Senegal will get the chance to play host team Qatar along with Ecuador and The Netherlands. With Senegal jumping two spots in FIFA’s most recent world ranking to No. 18, the team has a good shot of making it past the group stage, and here are five reasons why.
The Team Won the Africa Cup of Nations
Senegal had a great year in the AFCON tournament, winning the title at the 2022 competition. Senegal made it to the finals to face Egypt after moving through the group stage and next three rounds. The team scored eight points in the three games leading up to the final. In the finals with Egypt, the two went into a shootout, with Senegal’s Sadio Mane scoring the winning goal. With the win being the team’s first AFCON title, the national team will head into the group stage with momentum.
Senegal’s Experience in the World Cup
What sets Senegal apart from the other teams in Group A is their return to the World Cup. Although The Netherlands has a strong tradition of qualifying for the World Cup, it missed out the last round, leaving Senegal as the only team of Group A that qualified in 2018. Although the team didn’t make it past the group stage the last time, this year’s projected roster will expect to return some of its talent, headlined by forward Mane, defender Kalidou Koulibaly and midfielder Idrissa Gueye, among others. These players, along with a few more, should bring recent World Cup experience to help get Senegal past the group stage.
The Level Playing Field in Group A
While The Netherlands are ranked the highest in Group A with a world ranking of No. 8 and were given the best odds, the group is evenly matched, giving Senegal a solid chance of advancing. Although No. 49 Qatar qualified due to being the host team, the home-field advantage should give them a slight edge, while No. 44 Ecuador will get a good first matchup with the host team, giving them a chance to get a win early. Senegal, meanwhile, will play against The Netherlands in the first game. Though The Netherlands has a strong team, they are also young, and Senegal is the top-ranked team in Africa, which will make for an interesting matchup.
Manager Aliou Cisse’s Redemption Arc
Senegal is headed by Cisse, who will be leading the national team in the World Cup for the second time. Cisse was appointed manager in March 2015, and in 2018, helped Senegal qualify for the World Cup for the second time after qualifying in 2002. Senegal’s qualification in 2022 was the first time the team has reached consecutive tournaments. Before Cisse was a manager, he was a player for the national team, captaining the World Cup team in 2002. He helped lead the team to the quarterfinals, matching an African record in the cup, where they ultimately fell to Turkey 1-0. Following a quick exit in the 2018 World Cup group stage, Cisse will be looking to lead his team further this time around.
Senegal’s Strong Defense
One reason Senegal came out of AFCON on top is due to its defense. With a defense consisting of Abdou Diallo, Bouna Sarr and Nampalys Mendy, all recent additions making their debut in 2021, Senegal got a boost on its back line. At the African Cup of Nations, the defense put together four straight clean sheets before giving up a goal in the quarterfinals. Senegal put together one more scoreless game in the final against Egypt, Africa’s most successful team in the competition’s history, to earn the AFCON title. If Senegal keeps up a strong defense, there’s reason for optimism at this year’s World Cup.