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Why Senegal Is The Future Of Africa’s Soccer Scene

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Soccer (or football depending on where you’re from) is a beloved activity many sports enthusiasts engage in. Although Europe has taken over the global soccer scene, it is only recently that nations in Africa are gaining attention. Soccer players with African ancestral lineages were more visible than ever during the 2018 World Cup, despite them playing for teams outside of Africa. Out of the countries in Africa, Senegal in particular has demonstrated excellence in the sport that continues to fascinate the world. 

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Reputation Internationally 

As of June 2019, Senegal is ranked 23rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. The team, known as the “Lions of Teranga,” currently sit at the top of the rankings compared to their African peers. After their devastating loss to Columbia during the 2018 World Cup, Senegal has been undefeated until their lost against Algeria on June 27th of 2019. 

2018 World Cup 

With one previous appearance (2002) in the prestigious World Cup, Senegal qualified for the 2018 World Cup with ease. After bypassing the first stage of qualification, the Lions first tied then defeated the Madagascan national team to move on to the group stages. During the group draw, Senegal was drawn with Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, and South Africa. At the end of round-robin play, Senegal racked up a total of four wins and two draws. With this amazing feat, the Lions were able to solidify their spot for the main event in Russia.

Before the competition began, it was revealed that Senegal would have to play against Columbia, Japan, and Poland in their group. Like how they qualified, the group stages were played round-robin style. The Lions won their opening match 2-1 against the Polish team thanks to French-based player M’baye Niang. They later tied 2-2 and lost 1-2 to Japan and Columbia respectively.

For the first time in World Cup history, Japan managed to advance to the knockout stages over Senegal. This was because of FIFA’s ‘Fair Play Points’ rule. Japan accumulated less yellow and red cards during competitive play than Senegal, despite having the same game record and goal difference. It was a controversial move, but it was sad to see the squad end their journey so soon.    

soccer field
Lat Dior Stadium in the city of Thiès

Notable Players and Coaches 

Despite having members of the national team play abroad, Senegalese players are always prepared to represent their home country. Outside the African continent, they showcase the talent they possess, proving why Senegal is the premier African country. Here are some past and current figures that helped shape Senegal’s prominence in the soccer world. 

Henri Camara 

Henri Camara currently holds the title of having played the most games for the Lions. In a total of 99 game appearances, he scored 29 goals for his country. His most notable goal was the golden goal in the 2002 World Cup against Sweden. Professionally, Camara played for the Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League. Near the end of his career, he was transferred to the Greek soccer system, most notably playing for Panetolikos.  

Tony Sylva 

Tony Sylva was the goalkeeper for the 2002 World Cup squad. Reaching the quarter-final stages, he only allowed 6 goals in their run. Sylva made 83 appearances for the national team in 9 year-tenure. Abroad, Sylva spent most of his professional time with teams ASC Monaco and Lile in France’s Ligue 1. 

Sadio Mané 

Sadio Mané is the winger for Liverpool FC and is currently the captain of the national team. With a total of 36 caps, he has scored 12 goals so far. One of his most notable goals came from the 2018 Champions League Finals game against Real Madrid.

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Salif and Ludovic Sané 

Both half-brothers are renowned defenders for Senegal and play for teams in Germany and the United States. Salif plays for Schalke 04 in Germany and has made over 140 appearances in the Bundesliga league. Ludovic is in the U.S. playing for the MLS team Orlando City SC. Between them, they have a combined international 54 caps since 2013. 

M’Baye Niang

As a rising star of the Senegal team, M’Baye Niang has branded himself as the premier striker. His raw talent has been noticed by the likes of A.C. Milan and other well-established teams. At the age of 24, he has already made 4 goals for the national team and is not stopping anytime soon.  

Aliou Cissé  

Once a professional player, Cissé played for Senegal’s national team and Paris’ Saint-Germain before assuming the general manager role. Under his leadership, he led his team to secure a spot in Senegal’s second World Cup appearance. It is worth noting that he raised funds for the 2002 boat accident off the coast of The Gambia by using his influence in the soccer world to spread awareness.  

Bruno Metsu  

Cissé’s manager during his playing time on the national team was Bruno Metsu. Like Cissé, Metsu first started as a professional player and then turned to a managerial role. After managing the Guinean soccer team, he turned his eyes to the Lions of Teranga. In the 2002 World Cup, he led the team to beat reigning World Cup winner France and exposed Senegal as a nation with the potential to be one of the giants of soccer outside Europe.    

Soccer In Society

Although the unofficial sport of Senegal is wrestling, you will still see soccer everywhere you go. From little children playing on the street to adult men playing on sandy fields, it would be a mistake to dismiss them for their talent. Recruiters often go to Senegal and scout for talent for their teams. Several regional villages and major cities have developed their own soccer leagues where teams contend for their own cup. These leagues serve as a focal activity for locals to have fun. Next time you go out to Senegal, watch out for emerging stars and see if they will be the next Ronaldo of Africa.    

A typical scene for locals playing soccer

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