Since peaking in 2002, Senegal’s Africa Cup of Nations record has steadily declined somewhat since. That tournament saw them come agonisingly close to a first title, losing out in the final to Cameroon on penalties after a tight, nerve-wracking 0-0 draw. En route to that final they had defeated African giants Egypt and Nigeria but even this was unable to prepare the Senegalese faithful for what was to come a mere three months later. On the 31st of May that year, Senegal would take on France, the World Cup holders in the opening game of the Japan/Korea World Cup in Seoul. What followed was to be one of the major World Cup upsets, to be remembered for generations, a stunning and deserved 1-0 win for Senegal, the winner coming from Papa Bouba Diop. The Lions of Teranga would forge their way onwards to the Quarter-Finals, equalling the record for African teams in a World Cup, losing out to an extra-time goal against a strong Turkey team. Many of the squad would go on to become household names, Diop, Diao and Diouf all securing moves to the English Premiership, these were halcyon days for the Senegalese.
But to date, the Japan/Korea World Cup was the only one Senegal have made, following on from their final defeat in Mali their best finish in an Africa Cup of Nations was a fourth place finish four years on in Egypt. Two years ago they failed even to qualify for the South African tournament so they arrive in Equatorial Guinea with many a point to prove. Qualifying behind Tunisia from a strong group also containing Egypt, they finished with only one goal conceded, the best defensive record of all 28 teams. Now into his third year as manager, Alain Giresse has organised the team into a tight defensive unit, which they will need to be to progress from a Group with Ghana, Guinea and South Africa in. Lamine Sane will provide the backbone to the defence along with fellow Lique Un players Cheikh M’Bengue and Papa Souare. They will be organised by team captain and goal-keeper Bouna Coundoul, outstanding in the qualification campaign. For goals Senegal will look to an impressive strike force they have on offer, consisting on Mame Biram Diouf and Papisse Cisse, of Stoke City and Newcastle United from England’s Premier League.
I see Senegal making it through from this difficult group and ending up as possible winners of the tournament. Defensively sound, with plenty of creativity and very able finishers spread throughout the team, I see the Lions Of Teranga as a team that will occupy the last places in the competition and it would not surprise me to see keeper Coundoul holding the Cup of Nations aloft on the 8th of February.