- Senegal are Africa’s number one side in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- A fine 2018 has them thinking big for 2019
- Aliou Cisse the coach, Sadio Mane the star
Twenty-fourth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in August, Senegal ended the year as Africa’s top-ranked team, moving up to 23rd in November and holding on to that position in December to close out 2018 ahead of Tunisia in 26th.
The Lions of Teranga’s new-found status comes as reward for the work undertaken by coach Aliou Cisse since his appointment in 2015. Within three years, the former Senegal captain had put his country back in the global spotlight, masterminding their return to the FIFA World Cup™.
Since taking on the job in March 2015, Cisse has achieved a win percentage approaching 60 per cent. In his 37 matches in charge, Senegal have won 22, drawn nine and lost only six.
Back in the global elite
Senegal’s qualification for Russia 2018 brought to an end a 16-year absence from the big stage. Unfortunately for Cisse, he was unable to match what he had achieved as a player on his country’s world finals debut in 2002, when they went on a thrilling run to the quarter-finals.
Though Senegal’s World Cup return ended in the group phase, they could take pride from the fact that they were Africa’s best performers, collecting four points in Group H, and came within a whisker of a place in the Round of 16. Their hopes ended when they became the first ever side to be eliminated from the World Cup on the fair play rule, with Japan taking second place in the section at their expense, having picked up only four yellow cards to their six.
On song again in Africa
A year and a half before their reappearance at the World Cup, Senegal went some way to restoring their standing on the continental scene. They did so by putting in an impressive performance at the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, having struggled in the African finals or failed to reach them altogether following their fourth place finish in 2006.
Cisse’s charges made it to the quarter-finals in Gabon, before going out on penalties to eventual champions Cameroon. This coming June, they will head to Egypt as one of the favourites for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, having qualified with some style. Runners-up in 2002 with Cisse sporting the captain's armband and missing the crucial penalty in a shootout defeat to Cameroon, Senegal are aiming to win the continental title for the very first time.
Senegal have not lost a single qualifying match since Cisse’s appointment. They won six matches out of six en route to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations before booking their ticket to Russia 2018 with four wins and two draws. And with a home game against Madagascar to come on 22 March, the Senegalese have so far recorded four wins and a draw in their successful 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign.
While the Lions of Teranga have quality in abundance, there is one player who stands out above the rest. Where El-Hadji Diouf was their attacking spearhead in the 2000s, that role is now performed by Sadio Mane. Since winning his first cap in 2012, the livewire No10 has become the side’s most skilful performer and took on the captain’s role at Russia 2018.
Only Kalidou Koulibaly enjoyed more playing time in 2018 than Mane, who, at the age of only 26, has already established himself as a Senegal great. His country’s seventh-highest all-time scorer with 15 goals, the forward is also its tenth-most capped player with 58 appearances.
A CAF African Player of the Year runner-up behind Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah on Tuesday, for the second year running, Mane has lots of personal goals to fulfil. “I’m going to work even harder! I’m going to do everything I can to win. That’s my childhood dream,” he told the media, revealing that Senegal’s winning mentality is really taking root.