Rebirth of a footballing nation Part I: The Lions of Teranga seal World Cup 2018 berth

Senegal has now qualified for FIFA World Cup 2018

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With the world cup qualification process nearing the end of the road, we almost have all the teams confirmed for the next summer’s showpiece event after the premature conclusion of the African qualifiers. All the 5 African teams to play in Russia have appeared in the global showcase before. Here, we look at one such resurrected teams in details.

Senegal was never among the African footballing superpowers in the 20th-century qualifying for only 6 African Cup of nations with two 4th place finishes being their bests. After a quarterfinals exit from the 2000 African Cup of nations, French manager Bruno Metsu took charge of the West African nation and brought about a mammoth change.

A team which failed to reach the final rounds of qualifying in 1998 after a 3-2 aggregate defeat against Togo, started playing some mightily improved football. After getting the better of Benin in the first round, the Lions of Teranga were pitted in the toughest group in the second round consisting of Namibia and North African giants Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. It was highly improbable that the Senegalese would reach Korea and Japan; but with 4 victories over Namibia(twice), Algeria and Morocco(on the last matchday) and three crucial draws away at Annaba, Rabat and at home against Egypt negated out the solitary defeat at Cairo. At the end of the group games, they were locked on points with Morocco, but a better goal difference ensured that the “minnows” were going to their first world cup finals.

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Luck was again not on their side as the World Cup draws saw them pitted in the second group of death alongside defending champions France, 2-times world champions Uruguay and 1992 European champions Denmark.

But a strong show at the 2002 African Cup of nations when they lost to Cameroon in the final, made them a team not to be taken lightly by the others.

Even then, Bruno Metsu’s men were certainly the underdogs when they took on the overwhelming favorites France in the opening match at Seoul. But a 30th minute Papa Bouba Diop strike sunk Roger Lemerre’s men on an opening day. The Lions backed it up with a come from behind draw 1-1 against Denmark and then a 3-3 draw against a resurgent Uruguay to progress to the round of 16, where they met surprise group of death winners Sweden (the group consisted of Argentina, England, and Nigeria).

The Africans produced another mighty performance to oust the 1958 runners-up with a come from behind golden goal winner from Henry Camara.

But fate played cruelly as they were ousted by a Turkey golden goal in the quarters which prevented them from being the first ever African team to reach the last 4 of the world cup.

After a highly successful first world cup finals, Bruno stepped down. Under the leadership of his fellow Frenchman Guy Stephan, the 2004 African Cup of Nations saw Senegal finish 6th after a quarter-final exit against hosts and eventual champions Tunisia.

After a strong show in 2002, Senegal were the outright favorites to qualify for the 2006 world cup in Germany after they were drawn in group 1 of CAF qualifying with Togo, Zambia, Congo, Mali, and Liberia. But a surprising defeat to Togo and 3 away draws against Togo, Zambia and Congo kept them stranded at the 2nd position behind Togo ending their hopes of going to Germany.

The downfall was more prominent when in their 2010 qualifying campaign when they again failed to reach the 3rd round of the qualifiers after finishing 3rd in a group consisting of Algeria, Gambia, and Liberia.

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The Senegalese national team came close to qualifying for Brazil after topping their Group J second round qualifiers that consisted of Liberia, Angola, and Uganda. But their luck again ran out as they were pitted against the mighty Ivory Coast in the final round of qualifying in a two-legged encounter. The Elephants won the tie 4-2 to advance to the finals.

After another disappointing group stage exit at the 2015 African Cup of Nations, 2002 World Cup captain Aliou Cisse took charge. A lot of young and dynamic players were coming up the ranks of Senegal during the early 2010s. But in spite of talents like Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Keita Baldé Diao, Diafra Sakho, Mbaye Niang etc. the African nation was failing to perform as a team on the big stage.

Cisse just provided with the much-needed self-belief to the talented players plying their trades all over Europe’s top clubs. The 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists started their 2018 world cup qualifying on a bright note by qualifying for the second round by making short work of Madagascar. The luck favored as they were drawn in a relatively easy group with Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, and South Africa.

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Cisse’s men started with a 2-0 home victory over Cape Verde. Their luck favored again as, after their 1-2 loss to South Africa, FIFA investigated to find match-fixing allegations against the referee to order a replay of the match. They followed it up with two draws against Burkina Faso and another victory at Cape Verde.

They went into the 5th match day(the replay of the South Africa match) in a position where a win would ensure their passage with a match to go. Two goals from Mane and Sakho ensured that the Group D was decided even before the last match day.

13 years after leading his national team for the first time on football’s grandest stage, Aliou Cisse came back to guide his next generation of talents to his country’s second ever world cup.

Thus, 2017 saw the rebirth of a footballing nation, who mesmerized and flabbergasted the world when they knocked out the most star-studded French team in history en route to Africa’s joint best run at the world cup(Cameroon and Ghana have also reached the last 8 in 1990 and 2010 respectively). The football fans across the world will be once again hoping to see the Lions roar out on the big stage next year when the 2002 captain, leads them as the 2018 manager to probable glory.Senegal

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