Following the 2018 Fifa World Cup Draw on December 1, freelance writer Sammie Frimpong analyzes each of the groups the five African teams were placed in and today, he casts the spotlight on Senegal in Group H.
In an era when the individual’s ability to swing a football game is becoming increasingly more powerful than the collective’s -credit ‘selfish’ geniuses like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for that shift — there are many examples of what could be described as a one-man team.
At international level, there are quite a few. James Rodriguez’s Colombia are one (unless you’d rather believe Radamel Falcao is Los Cafeteros’ main man, which doesn’t make my point any less valid, anyway), Robert Lewandowski’s Poland is another.
It’s a concept Senegal, the African team placed in Group H of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, should know a thing or two about. The Lions of Teranga themselves are a pretty vivid illustration of a team that relies somewhat heavily on a star man, and they’d expect that crown jewel, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, to stand up to his fellow ‘superheroes’ when they come up against the aforementioned teams in Russia next year.
Lewandowski’s 16 goals were joint highest in the worldwide qualification series and is probably the most decent of the fox-in-the-box breed of strikers around. The Pole is more than decent, actually; he’s brilliant.
In Mane, though, Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse would feel he has a player capable of creating as much damage at the other end, while he (Cisse) focuses that defensive football brain hidden under those dreadlocks on devising a strategy to neutralize Lewandowski’s very real threat.
In Senegal’s final group game, Rodriguez — top scorer at the last World Cup — pops up, perhaps with a cape in Colombian colours.
Things haven’t gone exactly according to plan for Rodriguez since his head-turning exploits at Brazil 2014, but he’s at least had the privilege of playing for two of Europe’s biggest clubs, first Real Madrid and now Bayern Munich (where he features alongside Lewandowski) in that period, and will show up in Russia more mature and toughened.
If it will take another good World Cup display to remind everyone just how good he is -perhaps even revitalizing his career – Rodriguez will be keen to grab the opportunity with both hands.
Between those clashes, there is be a meeting with Japan, co-host of the World Cup where Senegal debuted 15 years ago.
Senegal are one of just two African nations the Blue Samurai have played against and failed to beat (in three matches), a statistic that gives their next appointment a special edge. Somehow, though, one gets the feeling Senegal shouldn’t be too worried about Japan.
It isn’t because Vahid Halilhodzic’s team lack pedigree on the international stage; if participation at the last five editions of the World Cup — two of which had them finish in the top 10 — don’t provide enough credibility, little else will.
But those appearances have yielded less than Senegal’s solitary run to the quarter-finals in 2002 — which, incidentally, ended on Japanese soil — and that grants the Africans a certain advantage when their June 24 date in Yekaterinburg is due.
Much of what Senegal can accomplish, of course, rests on Mane’s 25-year-old shoulders. He will not be the first stand-out of a Senegalese World Cup squad and his trainer Cisse will readily acknowledge the benefits of having one player take more pressure and responsibility than the rest.
Among other gains, it frees up the other top performers on the team to discharge their duties efficiently.
Cisse’s own generation — the golden Senegalese team of 2002 he captained — had its own leading light, the gifted but incredibly volatile El Hadji Diouf.
But Mane, who names Diouf his idol, is considered a more refined and rounded talent and he should be able to inspire his team to greater heights. He does it for Liverpool week-in, week-out, and doing so for his country over a few weeks shouldn’t be much harder.
Propped up all over the pitch by a solid supporting cast, Mane’s job should not be too difficult despite Senegal having the least World Cup experience among Group H’s quartet.
An uncompromising combatant in his day, fit and fierce to a degree that occasionally bordered on indiscipline, Cisse knows potential alone doesn’t always suffice. The group he skippered had extra and, in an interview with ACL Sports after the draw, Cisse demanded same from his charges.
“We need to be fit and prepared 100%, and also be in a competitive mood before and during the competition,” he said.
“That is very important. You must soak yourself in it to be able to fly or else you will be overrun.”
By: Sammie Frimpong/citifmonline.com/Ghana