Sequels are very rarely better than the debut. Bloated by the success of the opener, the subsequent showing is usually flattened by the weight of expectation.
But there should be no fear for Senegal’s second World Cup appearance, although if it is anything like the first, we are all in for a thrilling ride.
Indeed, few sides in Russia will carry the burden of history quite like the Lions of Teranga but 16 years on from their celebrated debut, this new pride has plenty of pedigree.
The latest generation, headed up by sharp coach Aliou Cisse, is rich in talent, vibrancy and crucially a fearless trait which could see them create rave reviews of their own.
In 2002, Senegal stunned defending champions France in one of the tournament’s greatest shocks. They then held Denmark and Uruguay to draws, downed Sweden with a golden goal before losing out in extra-time to Turkey in the quarter-finals.
An indelible mark was left but despite players well-stocked with ability, Senegal failed to push on.
Now, armed with elite stars like Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), M’Baye Niang (AC Milan), Keita Balde (Monaco) and of course Sadio Mane (Liverpool), the squad has retained its African identity but unlike the 2002 iteration, it is meshed with continental experience.
The Lions qualified by defeating South Africa, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde and the draw placed them within in a testing but balanced group alongside Colombia, Poland and Japan.
But there are some question marks over the make-up and mentality of the team. Cisse has experimented with a 4-5-1 formation instead of the 4-3-3 used during qualifying and it has yielded mixed results with two draws.
And it is experience which brings the other question mark. The exposure to high-level competition on a national level is limited but what they lack in wisdom on the pitch, is made up for on the sidelines.
Cisse captained his side at the 2002 World Cup and can now bring calm as coach. But this team is more than capable of creating history of its own, whether it be this World Cup or the next.
Piercing pace married to dazzling dribbling to create goals and assists, Mane is one of Africa’s finest exports and he’s enjoyed another superb season as part of Liverpool’s terror trio. He’s beginning to embrace the enormous burden of expectation on his shoulders.
A fiercely intelligent man, Cisse is one of Africa’s most talented coaches and having captained the famous 2002 Senegal side, he is acutely aware of what it takes to
produce. The 42-year-old has forged a strong bond with much of his squad having coached many at U23 level.
The skipper is made of iron but for West Ham this season he’s been melted by a series of poor performances. For Senegal, though, the towering midfielder is a rugged ball-winner and a crucial cog in the central hub of a side that has so many attacking options.
The 23-year-old has operated on the left of an electric front three with Mane on the opposite side and Diafra Sakho through the middle. Took time to settle at Monaco last season after arriving from Serie A club Lazio, but has been decisive since the turn of the year.
STATS AND FACTS
– Senegal are the second ranked African team at the World Cup
– Seven of the first-team squad play their club football in England
– Their best finish at the Africa Cup of Nations is a runner-up spot in 2002
76 DEF, 77 MID, 77 ATT
World Cups competed at
2 (First in 2002)
World Cup record
P5, W2, D2, L1
P8, W5, D3
Goalkeepers: Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya AC), Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Alfred Gomis (Torino).
Defenders: Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Moussa Wague (Eupen), Saliou Ciss (Angers), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor).
Midfielders: Badou Ndiaye (Stoke), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham), Salif Sane (Hannover 96), Alfred N’Diaye (Villarreal).
Forwards: Moussa Sow (Bursaspor), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Keita Balde Diao (Monaco), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke), M’Baye Niang (AC Milan).
Senegal are one of three African teams to have reached the World Cup quarter-finals and hopes are high this squad can at least match that.
Entering their fifth World Cup Finals – and first since 2010 – the Danes have momentum on their side after finishing second in a tricky qualifying group and seeing off Republic of Ireland emphatically in their two-legged play-off clash.
That 5-1 victory in Dublin, following a goalless draw in the tie’s opening clash, sent the footballing world a timely reminder of the talent the Red and Whites possess at their disposal.
The mood in and around the camp seems pretty buoyant, and on paper, they are favourites to finish second in Group C behind a star-studded France squad.
There’s a bit of déjà vu to this, too. Remarkably, Denmark and France were pitted in Group C way back at France ‘98, with the hosts (and eventual winners) topping proceedings while a side containing the talents of Peter Schmeichel and the Laudrup brothers ended as runners-up.
Les Bleus won their respective meeting 2-1, but still, a return of four points back then was enough to advance. Denmark went on to reach the last eight, losing to Brazil in a 3-2 thriller in Nantes.
Another lucky omen doesn’t have anything to do with footballing ability but rather the team’s iconic apparel. When you think of the country’s kit, immediately, sponsor Hummel springs to mind and its classic chequered line look on each sleeve, with a v-neck collar. This World Cup, it is back after somewhat of a hiatus given Adidas held the sponsorship agreement between 2004 and 2016.
On the pitch, Denmark have some decent quality and players who play on the biggest stages week in, week out. While the playmaking exploits of Christian Eriksen immediately spring to mind, the reliability of Leicester stopper Kasper Schmeichel in goal; the burgeoning potential of Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen and solidity of someone like Simon Kjaer offer a good mix of footballing intelligence.
Highly-rated Thomas Delaney – one of the stars of the Bundesliga season for Werder Bremen and veteran vice-captain William Kvist, also offer a buffer to release Eirksen.
Denmark were hardly prolific in qualifying – scoring just 20 times – and will need Yussuf Poulsen and Nicolai Jorgensen to produce the goods, supported by Celta Vigo’s Pione Sisto.
The Tottenham midfielder is set to have a busy summer, with speculation concerning his long-term future and a move to Barcelona likely to be the undercurrent to his World Cup. At the peak of the powers and the main man for the Danes.
The experienced Norwegian, who interestingly played for Manchester City and Norwich City in the 1980s, led the Scandinavian side to the finals through the playoffs, and should continue to make good strides with this team. Has reinvigorated the side since taking charge in 2015.
A leading presence at the back and calming influence on the pitch, the 29-year-old’s
experience is important but he will need to make sure he is fully fit having spent chunks of his season with Sevilla on the treatment table. He made only 18 starts in La Liga last term.
The 22-year-old powerful Chelsea centre-back is still learning his trade in defence but has become a regular in the Blues’ three-man back line. Seems to be growing in stature all the time and will relish his first major tournament, his adeptness in possession will be a vital asset.
KEY FACTS AND STATS
76 DEF 78 MID 76 ATT
World Cups competed at
5 (first in 1986)
World Cup record
P16, W8, D2, L6
P12, W7, D3, L2
Goalkeepers: K. Schmeichel (Leicester City), F. Ronnow (Brondby IF), J. Lossl (Huddersfield Town)
Defenders: H. Dalsgaard (Brentford), S. Kjaer (Sevilla), J. Stryger Larsen (Udinese), M. Jorgensen (Huddersfield Town), J. Vestergaard (Borussia Monchengladbach), A. Christensen (Chelsea), J. Knudsen (Ipswich)
Midfielders: W. Kvist (FC Kobenhavn), T. Delaney (Werder Bremen), C. Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur), L. Lerager (Bordeaux), M. Krohn-Dehli (Deportivo), L. Schone (Ajax), P. Sisto (Celta Vigo)
Forwards: N. Jorgensen (Feyenoord), Y. Poulsen (RB Leipzig), V. Fischer (FC Kobenhavn), K. Dolberg (Ajax), Andreas C. (Atalanta), M. Braithwaite (Bordeaux)
It’s possible the Danes could face Argentina in the second-round, which given the doubts around them, could yield a quarter final spot.
Uruguay came through qualifying with flying colours. Of course, they were beaten to top spot by an indomitable Brazil side but showed plenty of attacking verve and positive signs in their run to pip Argentina to second place in the South American continent.
Oscar Tabarez has assembled a squad anchored by seasoned pros like Diego Godin, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez and peppered with young attacking talent. With an energetic, youthful exuberance – particularly in midfield – La Celeste are a force to be reckoned with.
Their greatest strength lies in their famed two-pronged attack. In Suarez and Cavani, they possess a strike partnership as good as any in the world. While the Barcelona star has many facets to his game and can excel when doubling up as a creator of goals, Cavani has proved himself as a master marksmen.
He was the top scorer across all South American teams during qualifying with 10 goals to his name. At club level as well, he’s taken centre stage, scoring 49 goals in all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain last season while he has 40 this time around.
In Godin, Uruguay have an inspirational leader at the heart of their defence, capable of marshalling the back-line to perfection. Of late, the young Jose Gimenez has emerged as a worthy central defensive partner for the old stalwart. However, their full-backs leave much to be desired. Martin Caceres is past his best and has struggled for playing time at Lazio.
Meanwhile, Guillermo Varela hasn’t always been the most convincing at right-back. On the other side, Gaston Silva has been in and out of the team while Diego Laxalt is a makeshift left-back. Although the midfield has been aided by youth, it does lack stability with Tabarez experimenting with different players and combinations.
Uruguay hold a prestigious place in World Cup history, boasting the distinction of being the first ever champions having also hosted the inaugural edition in 1930.
Their other win came in 1950, while they placed fourth in South Africa eight years ago under the guidance of Tabarez. They were knocked out by Colombia in the last 16 in 2014.
Luis Suarez hasn’t enjoyed an extraordinary season, by his standards at least, but retains his standing as Uruguay’s match-winner. Blessed with remarkable technique, intelligence and a relentless work ethic, he’s just the kind of player that can make the difference when the pressure’s on.
The grand old man of Uruguayan football. Oscar Tabarez has led the national team for 14 years over two spells, winning the Copa America in 2011. Renowned for his pragmatism, his teams have a reputation for being passionate, dogged and difficult to beat.
When you think of Uruguay’s best performances over the last decade, they’re brave, battling displays and Diego Godin is invariably a central figure in every one of them. The Atletico Madrid vicecaptain is a rock at the back, he’s reliable as ever and wears his heart on his sleeve.
The 20-year-old has impressed in his first season with Serie A side Juventus despite starting on the bench on most occasions. His height and strength makes him a formidable force in midfield as does his range of passing while his versatility serves as an added bonus.
KEY FACTS AND STATS
– Only the first verse and chorus on their national anthem is played ahead of games. The complete version lasts six minutes and is one of the longest anthems in the world.
– Ururguay have won the Copa America 15 times, more than any other team.
– In terms of population (3.44 million according to the latest survey), Uruguay are the smallest country to ever win a World Cup.
– 291, touches in the opposition’s box for Suarez in 17/18 La Liga.
80 DEF 77 MID 86 ATT
World Cups competed at
13 (First in 1930)
World Cup record
P51, W20, D12, L19
Champions (1930 & 1950)
P18, W9, D4, L5
Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Martin Campana (Independiente).
Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez (both Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Maximiliano Pereira (Porto), Gaston Silva (Independiente), Martin Caceres (Lazio), Guillermo Varela (Penarol).
Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey).
Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo), Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain), Luis Suarez (Barcelona).
Round of 16. They pack a punch but realistically, aren’t even outside favourites although they could spring a couple of upsets along the way.