28 June 2018

Senegal: Africa's World Cup Hopes Rests On Senegal in Colombia Clash

Photo: SABC screenshot
Senegal fan

St Petersburg — Following Nigeria's exit from the World Cup on Tuesday, despite a valiant effort against Argentina, all eyes will be on Senegal thursday as they play a resurgent Colombia side for a place in the second round of the Russia 2018 World Cup.

With Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia are already eliminated from the competition, the continent's hopes of making an impact now rests solely on the Teranga Lions.

Senegal are on four points after two matches while Colombia are on three. The other match in Group H sees Japan face already-eliminated Poland.

A draw for Senegal will see them qualify for the last 16, regardless of how current group leaders Japan fare in their match.

Colombia could qualify with a draw as long as Japan lose. However, if Japan avoid defeat then Colombia need to win to set up a clash with either Belgium or England from Group G in the last 16.

Colombia started their campaign with defeat by Japan but bounced back with an impressive 3-0 win over Poland.

Senegal opened with a 2-1 victory over Poland before a 2-2 draw against Japan that disappointed head coach Aliou Cisse.

"We were not very good, frankly," Cisse said. "I think the best team on the pitch was Japan, I have to be honest."

Despite winning comfortably against Poland last time out, Pekerman has hinted he might make changes against Senegal.

Carlos Sanchez could return to the Colombia starting XI after being suspended for the second match following his red card against Japan.

Senegal and Colombia have faced each other just once before, in a friendly in May 2014, with Colombia taking a 2-0 lead into half-time, only to concede two goals in the second half.

A similar result will suffice today but if Senegal lose and Japan avoid defeat against Poland at the same time, Africa's interest in Russia will come to an abrupt end.

In every tournament since the 1986 finals in Mexico, at least one African country has made it through to the knockout stages - even when there were only three African teams in the field.

Africa's allocation was increased to five places when the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams in France in 1998, and when South Africa hosted the 2010 finals there were six sides.

Ghana, riding a wave of popular support, got within a whisker of a semi-final place at that tournament while Algeria and Nigeria advanced in Brazil four years ago, but the latest batch of African sides have produced a poorer return.

Senegal, who have four points from their first two games, can save the situation. But even if they progress, the latest batch of performances will further mute calls for greater representation at future tournaments.

With 54 member countries, Africa has only one less nation than UEFA, European football's governing body, but Europe has the lion share of teams at the World Cup - 14, including host Russia.

The expanded 48-team World Cup set to be held in North America in eight years' time will see Africa getting nine places, still far fewer than Europe's 16 slots.

African countries used to point to the imbalance as unfair, but this argument has been quietly abandoned as results have failed to back calls for increased representation. The continent's performance in Russia so far looks unlikely to change that situation but Senegal can at least give the continent something to cheer with a positive result against Colombia today.

Senegal

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