- Senegal ended 2019 20th in the World Ranking
- Country enjoying its highest ever placing
- Sadio Mane named African Player of the Year for 2019
In 2002, inspired by the likes of Aliou Cisse, El Hadji Diouf, Omar Daf and Papa Bouba Diop, Senegal enjoyed a truly exceptional year. The Lions of Teranga reached the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations and then competed in their first ever FIFA World Cup™.
Their opening game in Korea Republic could hardly have been tougher, pitting them as it did against reigning world champions France. To almost everyone’s surprise, they won their opener and began a magnificent run all the way to the quarter-finals. That memorable year ended with Senegal breaking new ground by climbing to 27th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
In the intervening 18 years, the national team have had their share of setbacks. Now, though, the Lions of Teranga have once again assembled an impressive side and are back in the spotlight. Moreover, there are many similarities between the legendary team of 2002 and the one that is currently Africa’s highest placed side in the World Ranking.
Cisse the link
Back in 2002, the Senegalese captain was Montpellier defender Aliou Cisse. Then only 26, he was instrumental to an unforgettable year for the side. Now 43, Cisse is now into his fifth year as national team coach and boasts a win rate 61.8 per cent, courtesy of 34 wins, 14 draws and only seven defeats in 55 games.
At Korea/Japan 2002, Senegal wowed the watching world on its maiden participation. After that however, the team would miss out on the next three editions. It was not until Russia 2018 that the west African side graced their second World Cup.
There they performed admirably, beating Robert Lewandowski's Poland side, drawing with Japan, and narrowly losing to Colombia. Tied with group rivals Japan on goals and points, Senegal were eliminated by virtue of having accumulated more yellow cards than the Asian side. Despite that heartbreak, they unquestionably made their mark on the tournament, both on the field and in the stands.
In 15 appearances at the Africa Cup of Nations, Senegal have yet to lift the title and have reached the final only twice. Yet it is no accident that these two occasions coincided with the two golden ages of Senegalese football. They lost their first final in 2002, on penalties to Cameroon, and the second in 2019, when they went down by the narrowest of margins to Algeria.
Lion Kings with formidable packs
Just as in 2002, the current side is built around a nucleus of key players. Eighteen years ago, Habib Beye, Papa Bouba Diop and Khalilou complemented the star of the team: El Hadji Diouf. Today, imposing Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gueye and forwards Keita Balde and M'Baye Niang are ideal lieutenants for Sadio Mane.
Recently voted African Player of the Year 2019 – an accolade Diouf himself picked up twice – after winning the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup, the Liverpool ace is unquestionably the spearhead of the Senegalese attack.
Leading the way
Prior to 2019, Senegal's highest ever position in the World Ranking was 27th in 2002. After dropping right down to 89th in 2009, the west Africans gradually turned the corner. In 2017 and 2018, they finished the year in 23rd, before climbing to an all-time high of 20th after finishing runners-up at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. The Lions of Teranga managed to retain that position for the rest of 2019, allowing them to finish the year as the highest ranked African side.