Senegal’s World Cup: What went wrong?
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No Sadio Mane
This one is obvious—and has been discussed incessantly since injury ruled the Bayern Munich superstar out of the World Cup—but we need to get it out of the way.
Mane would be a loss for any team in the tournament; he finished second in the recent Ballon d’Or classement, behind only Karim Benzema, and is the reigning African Footballer of the Year.
He is Senegal’s talisman, scoring the decisive penalty as they ended their wait for an Africa Cup of Nations title, and firing the Teranga Lions past Egypt to the tournament.
His absence through injury immediately transformed Senegal’s prospects at the World Cup, and meant that a return to the quarter-finals was unlikely.
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Key players didn’t turn up
Both Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly had their moments at the World Cup.
The former made some key stops in the victory over Qatar, when Senegal struggled to subdue the hosts, while the latter netted a decisive winner against Ecuador to send the Teranga Lions through to the knockouts.
However, both appeared out of sorts at key moments of the tournament—not least against England—as they perhaps brought their Chelsea struggles with them to the World Cup.
If Senegal were to stand any chance against the Three Lions, they need their big names to turn up at the critical moment.
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Idrissa Gana Gueye is the heartbeat of this Senegal side, and was a big loss against England after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage.
One of the Premier League’s great midfield destroyers over the last decade, would the Senegal centre-backs have been as exposed against England—as the Lions unravelled—had Gueye been in there screening the backline?
Similarly, with Senegal lacking midfield creativity, he had been given a more advanced brief during the Lions’ group stage, and could have provided thrust from the centre and some semblance of service for Boulaye Dia.
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Lack of midfield creativity
With or without Gueye and Mane, it’s clear that Senegal massively struggle for midfield creativity, and moving forward, Aliou Cisse needs to identify players who can help them control games and break through defences.
Too often, during the World Cup, Senegal sought to play it long and directly, rather than attempt to play through teams and break down opposition lines.
They simply don’t have the creative midfielders who can do this, and it’s worrying that even against Qatar—comfortably the poorest team in the tournament—they had less than 55 percent of the possession.
In the future, will someone like Pape Matar Sarr emerge as the kind of midfield creator Senegal desperately need?
Too many late arrivals?
Every England player in this current international squad had at least a year of Three Lions experience under their belts heading into the World Cup, with fringe player Conor Gallagher—who made his debut in November 2021—the most recent player to receive a cap.
He was nowhere near the starting XI for Sunday’s showdown.
Senegal, by contrast, started two players in the Last 16 meeting who only made their international debuts in September, and had only a handful of caps between them.
Both Ismail Jakobs and Pathe Ciss are new arrivals in the squad, and while both have talent, it’s clearly not ideal for new faces to be thrust into key roles for such a major fixture.
The pair were both at fault for England goals, Jakobs losing concentration to lose both Jordan Henderson and Bukayo Saka for their goals, while Ciss lost possession at a critical moment as the European giants put the game beyond Senegal, and didn’t come out after the break.
Iliman N’Diaye, who made his international debut in June, could have also benefited from establishing himself for longer with the national side before the World Cup.
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Inadequate playing time
As well as being a new face in the squad, Jakobs entered the tournament having only started three matches for AS Monaco this season—as many games as he started during the World Cup.
Nampalys Mendy, who stepped into a key midfield role in the absence of Kouyate and Gueye, hasn’t started a single league game for Leicester City in the Premier League this term, featuring for just 147 minutes in the top flight.
Pape Matar Sarr, who was introduced by Cisse as Senegal sought to turn things around against the Three Lions, hasn’t played a single minute for Tottenham Hotspur this term, while Bamba Dieng, another would-be impact sub, has made just one start for Olympique de Marseille.
In such an intense, demanding environment, against such ominous foe, Senegal simply couldn’t afford to have too many players in key positions who lacked match sharpness and perhaps even adequate conditioning heading into the tournament,