Nigeria and host nation Egypt may be among the favourites to lift the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title but all eyes will be on Senegal’s Teranga Lions to win the competition despite no success since its inception in 1957.
Senegal head into the 32nd AFCON as Africa’s top team based on the latest FIFA world ranking released on June 14, with Aliou Cisse’s side occupying 22nd spot in the world and Tunisia in 25th position – just two African teams in the top 40 bracket.
But beyond the rankings, Senegal head to Egypt with arguably the strongest squad which is led by captain and Liverpool star, Sadio Mane, as well as the likes of Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye of Everton, Turkish Super Lig top scorer Mbaye Diagne and Barcelona starlet, Moussa Wague, among others.
? Les coulisses de l'arrivée du @FootballSenegal ! ?#TotalAFCON2019 ?? pic.twitter.com/3JKutfp04g
— CAF (FR) (@caf_online_FR) June 19, 2019
Cisse’s men are expected to sail through the group stage where they have been drawn in Group C along with 1990 champions Algeria as well as East African duo, Kenya and Tanzania – the latter managed by former Super Eagles star, Emmanuel Amuneke.
This expected ease comes as a result of the players’ desire to live up to the tag as the new golden generation of Senegalese football that would make the West African nation proud, as well as a desperation to deal with the heartbreak of 2017 which saw Mane’s penalty miss send Senegal crashing out of AFCON at the quarter-final stage.
The failure of 2017 would is expected to be one of Senegal’s biggest inspiration heading to AFCON 2019, though, the exploits of the golden generation of 2002, which saw the likes of captain and current head coach Cisse as well as El Hadji Diouf, Papa Bouba Diop, Henri Camara, Khalilou Fadiga, Tony Silva, Salif Diao and other stars shine at the continental and global stages, would be another source of great motivation.
That team had finished top of a tough 2002 AFCON group consisting of Egypt, Tunisia and Zambia, then knocked out DR Congo and the Super Eagles to set up a final showdown with Cameroon which the Indomitable Lions won 3-2 on penalties following a goalless draw.
Senegal at the time recovered from that heartbreak to put up a memorable display during a first ever World Cup appearance in the summer of 2002, as the Teranga Lions led by Bruno Metsu shocked then-defending champions, France, with a 1-0 defeat in their opening group match.
The team followed up that historic result with draws in matches against Denmark and Uruguay to seal progression to the knock-out stages where they beat Sweden in the round of 16 to become only the second African nation reach the World Cup quarter-final stage where they fell after extra-time to Turkey.
16 years later and the Senegalese team started well at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in a group with Colombia, Poland and Japan, only to be denied progression to knock-out stages by a poorer disciplinary record compared to Japan after both nations finished with identical records.
Mane and co lifted themselves from the disappointment in Russia to conclude their AFCON 2019 qualifying campaign with the best record from the 12 groups, dropping points in only one of their six matches to ease into the 32nd AFCON.
Among the 24 teams at AFCON 2019, only Nigeria and Egypt scored more goals than Senegal in the qualifying stage while Ghana was the only team that conceded less goals than the Teranga Lions – the Blacks Stars only had four matches recorded for them after Ethiopia were disqualified, meaning Senegal could have ended up with the best defensive record.
These facts show Senegal’s strength and balance in attack and defence thanks to the abundance of experienced talent in the squad as well as a great desire to win as seen in the run of just one loss in their last 10 matches.
Senegal have also lost just twice in the 20 matches played since falling to Cameroon at AFCON 2017 – none of those defeats came against African teams.
In fact, the minimum expectation for this Senegal team is reaching the final on July 19 2019 and the 23 other teams battling the Teranga Lions for the African crown can scramble for second.
Do you believe Senegal will live up to the huge expectations and become AFCON champions for the first time or will they fail? Talk to me about it in the comment section.