Team Countdown - Senegal. It says something of Senegal's only World Cup expedition that 16 years later, it is undoubtedly the most remarkable representation of the African continent, only behind that by Cameroon in 1990. Appearing as debutants, the Senegalese stick in the memory for ensuring then world champions France did not have to unpack all their kits as a sensational 1-0 opening day win made life difficult for the French and suddenly one of two Last 16 slots many had thought was reserved for France instead ended up with the Lions of Teranga.
The Senegalese would go on to reach the quarter-finals that year but that gifted generation featuring names like Elhadji Diouf, Khalilou Fadiga and Papa Bouba Diop was unable to deliver on its promise as there were no subsequent World Cup appearances until another exceptional collection of players showed up.
Qualification however was not achieved entirely conventionally, as it required a qualifier against South Africa to be replayed first for the Lions of Teranga to secure their spot.
Passage to Russia was certainly deserved, but the Senegalese have looked impressive in qualifying for tournaments before and disappointed when it really matters.
How they play:
Energetic, pacy, physical and yet technically gifted, the Senegalese play attacking football, but it is also disciplined football, not surprising when you consider the coach--Aliou Cisse--was the 2002 team's defensive organiser.
There is skill, speed and arguably more quality in depth especially in attack, than any of the other teams representing the African continent at this showpiecce than ever before. Just as importantly, there is possibly better balance than any of their Group H opponents.
The Senegalese team often somehow turns out to be a sum less than the parts. There is also a persistent inability to rise to the occasion when the pressure is on.
Sadio Mane scored an impressive 20 goals this season and is the most important part of a talented Senegalese attacking line--as a creator or scorer.
One to watch:
Keita Balde Diao, 23, was a hit in his first season at Monaco and his playmaking abilities will be critical to bringing the best out of the forwards.
Senegal has sufficient assuredness in defence, control in midfield and bite in attack to go into some of its Group H games as slight favourites. That, however, is part of the problem; the Lions of Teranga seem to struggle playing opponents at their level and Colombia, Poland and Japan are teams you would classify as such. Nevertheless, progressing from the group is a target within reach, and so too is another quarter-final run.
Fifa Ranking: 28
Coach: Aliou Cisse
Probable Line up
1. Khadim N'Diaye
2. Kara Mbodji (captain)
3. Kalidou Koulibaly
4. Salif Sane
5. Lamine Gassama
6. Cheikhou Kouyate
7. Idrissa Gueye
8. Alfred N'Diaye
9. Keita Balde Diao,
10. Diafra Sakho
11. Sadio Mane