Lions claw their way back
© AFP

Although Senegal are still far removed from their all-time best FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, which came in mid 2004 when they hit 26th in the world and third in Africa, the Lions of Teranga are moving in the right direction after slumping to their worst-ever standing in June of this year. Just last month, the west African team had dropped to 99th in the world and 25th in Africa following a run of over a year without a win on the international scene.

However, an improvement in form has seen them climb 25 places, and they are currently ranked 74th globally and 17th on the continent. More importantly though, they are also in a strong position to advance to CAF's final qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ as they currently lead Group J with just a match remaining and their fate in their own hands.

The Korea Republic/Japan 2002 quarter-finalists, who so memorably stunned holders France 1-0 in their opening game, need just a draw against second-placed Uganda to move through to the play-off round, where just a two-match tie will separate them from a second appearance on football's biggest stage.

Promise waiting to be fulfilled
Widely accredited with turning around Senegal's fortunes is former France international Alain Giresse, who took over the Senegalese coaching job in January after Joseph Koto was sacked following the team's failure to qualify for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.

In Giresse's first competitive match at the helm, the Lions drew 1-1 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Angola, in a contest played in Guinea instead of Senegal because of a one-year ban following crowd disturbances during a Cup of Nations qualifier last year. Two further FIFA World Cup qualifiers within a week in June saw Senegal strengthen their grip at the top of the preliminary table. First they managed an important 1-1 draw in Luanda against Angola, with Papiss Cisse opening the score in the first half for the visitors. And in the next match, the Newcastle striker went one better as he scored in each half to give the Lions of Teranga a 2-0 victory in Monrovia against Liberia.

I simply came to bring in my skills and expertise to achieve a goal. That goal is qualifying for Brazil.
Alain Giresse on coaching Senegal

To prepare for their all-important qualifier against Uganda, Senegal will play a friendly against 2012 African champions Zambia in France before facing The Cranes in Morocco. On display as always should be a thrilling front line including Cisse's former Newcastle team-mate Demba Ba, who is now at Chelsea, Moussa Sow of Fenerbahce or Montpellier's Souleymane Camara. It is that kind of firepower that has earned Senegal the tag of underachievers, albeit exciting ones, after a number of years of mediocre results.

Chasing the World Cup dream
Given the talent in the country, Giresse recently told French media that he had not set out to revolutionise Senegalese football but only to bring the side up to their natural level. "I came to Senegal not to rebuild football in the country but rather to help the team gain some momentum after two recent disappointments,” he said. “The team went out in the first round of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and then failed to qualify for the next one. Senegal have very good players, and I simply came to bring in my skills and expertise to achieve a goal. That goal is qualifying for Brazil."

Giresse, who spent his entire professional career with just two clubs - Bordeaux and Marseille - did not lose in his first five matches in charge of the Senegalese team, winning one and drawing four. "It is nice not to have lost,” he reflected. “But when we do not win every game, a coach cannot be fully satisfied. However, it's good to have our destiny in our hands before the last match of the second round against Uganda."

A point in the match against a tricky Ugandan side would put Senegal into the final round of CAF qualifying, which will consist of a home-and-away tie against one of the other group winners from the second round. The five victorious sides in those head-to-head contests qualify for Brazil 2014, and there is no doubt that few teams in Africa would want to see Senegal as the name drawn as their opponent.