DOHA, Qatar — There was a time not so way back that an African facet shedding their greatest participant on the eve of a World Cup would have spelt catastrophe, however Senegal have already proven they’re much extra than simply Sadio Mane.
The world’s second greatest participant is not in Qatar after struggling a hamstring harm whereas enjoying for membership facet Bayern Munich simply days earlier than the event started but, in his absence, coach Aliou Cisse’s facet have come by Group A to arrange a round-of-16 tie with England at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.
Even after Mane was dominated out, there was a quiet confidence within the west African county of 17 million people who they may get out of a gaggle containing Netherlands, Ecuador and hosts Qatar. Now they’ve, there is a feeling that within the knockout rounds something might occur.
Senegal are certainly one of simply three African nations to achieve the quarterfinals of a World Cup after their run to the final eight in Japan and South Korea in 2002.
It is attainable that France might lie in wait within the quarters, however there stays a perception, at the least at house, that this Senegal group, winners of their first Africa Cup of Nations in February, could possibly be the primary African group to achieve a World Cup semifinal.
A lot of the arrogance is all the way down to gamers like Kalidou Koulibaly, scorer of the essential second purpose within the last group recreation in opposition to Ecuador to seal qualification.
If Mane is the star, Koulibaly is the cement — notably throughout qualifying when Senegal conceded simply 5 objectives in eight video games.
Koulibaly has used a lot of his media commitments in Qatar to emphasize that Senegal are usually not simply Mane plus just a few others.
“Two-thirds of the world probably thought we wouldn’t go through after Sadio’s injury,” he mentioned after his purpose in opposition to Ecuador. “But we are a family, a well-oiled team. There is a dream of going beyond the quarterfinal. We keep believing, we want to relate the story of Senegalese football.”
Like Cisse, who is named a man-manager and motivator moderately than a tactical genius, group spirit and togetherness is certainly one of Koulibaly’s robust fits.
Sources have informed ESPN that when Chelsea have been trying to signal the centre-back in the summertime, membership bosses requested Jorginho, a former teammate at Napoli, for a personality reference and have been informed “everyone will love him.” Jorginho has been proved proper and after only some months, Koulibaly — as soon as a £90 million goal for Manchester United — is a central a part of the dressing room at Stamford Bridge.
He impressed Chelsea in the summertime when he requested former captain John Terry for permission to take the No. 26 shirt — the identical quantity he had worn at Napoli. He knew it will result in straightforward comparisons, notably as a result of he and Terry play in the identical place, however wasn’t fazed by the extra stress.
Koulibaly is, nonetheless, nonetheless adapting to the Premier League after eight years in Serie A and has been caught greater than as soon as making an attempt to win the ball excessive up the pitch. It was his aggressive fashion of defending which noticed him proven a purple card in a 3-0 defeat to Leeds United in August.
The 31-year-old, who was born in France and has spent his whole profession in Europe, is an instance of how, over time, African soccer has developed.
Koulibaly is certainly one of 10 gamers within the Senegal squad who play their membership soccer in England whereas one other 5 play in both Spain or Italy. The final time England confronted an African nation within the knockout rounds of the World Cup — a quarterfinal last in opposition to Cameroon in 1990 — details about gamers was more durable to search out.
Thirty-two years in the past, the majority of the Cameroon squad, the primary from Africa to achieve a quarterfinal, have been based mostly at house with just one based mostly in England, Italy or Spain. If Gareth Southgate needs any further data on Koulibaly, he solely has to ask Chelsea membership mates Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount or Conor Gallagher.
It will not matter to Senegal, who will consider they’ve the gamers — even with out Mane — to go toe-to-toe with one of the best Europe and South America have to supply.
In 1990, Cameroon shocked World Cup holders Argentina of their opening recreation and in 2002, Senegal did the identical to reigning champions France. The purpose scorer that day, Papa Bouba Diop, died in November 2020 aged simply 42 — the two-year anniversary falling on the identical day Senegal beat Ecuador to progress to the spherical of 16 and afterwards Koulibaly devoted his purpose and the end result to the previous Fulham and Portsmouth midfielder.
Certainly one of Diop’s teammates in 2002, El-Hadji Diouf — in Qatar as an advisor to Cisse — has already warned England that, like France 20 years in the past, they’re underestimating Senegal, notably as a result of Mane is not right here. Koulibaly has been passing on an identical message that Senegal are extra than simply Mane and he’ll be out to show it once more on Sunday.