The Lions of Teranga have caused quite the stir on social media, both as victims of Lord Sugar’s racist jokes but they’ve also been rightfully praised. Their travelling supporters have been absolute legends in Russia, both before, during and after their opening match. They created a feast of colour and rhythm on the terraces, and did something rarely seen in a football ground; cleaned up after themselves.
Senegal fans cleaning their section, class ❤️ pic.twitter.com/cxJo0NpNEH
— infosmessi (@INFOSMESSl) June 19, 2018
Senegal are favourites to win Group H, 5/6.
And then there’s Aliou Cisse. A manager so fierce and fun that he immediately turned into an internet meme following his touchline antics during the Poland match.
Senegal's Aliou Cissé with one of the great World Cup coaching celebrations. You may meme this if you would like, internets. pic.twitter.com/zVkaWiotky
— Miriti Murungi (@NutmegRadio) June 19, 2018
The manager has been criticised for his negative football and accused of implementing a dull and conservative style of play. But his tactics have brought the Lions to the World Cup for only the second time in history, the first time reaching the quarter-finals in 2002 (where Cisse was one of the key players). They played with similar tactics back then; strength in defence, quick on the break – and they couldn’t have had a better start to the tournament than beating the favourites, France, 1-0.
Although Poland are nowhere near favourites to win the cup, they were favourites to beat Senegal last Tuesday. But the Polish Eagles offered nothing in the first half, and by putting up a patient and composed performance and taking full advantage of Poland’s surprisingly sloppy play, Senegal became the first African team in this years’ tournament to win their match.
It was lucky, but it was well earnt.
Polar opposite to the lazy stereotype that African teams are just about pace and power, this was clever and disciplined. And in the middle of it, Liverpool’s own Sadio Mané.
No one on Merseyside sports a better smile than Sadio. Not even Bobby, despite his hardest efforts. Even netting 20 times for the Reds this season, his performance has been overshadowed by the outstanding nine months of Mo Salah. Roberto Firmino’s 27 goals and 11 assists have stolen more hearts and headlines, too. According to a portion of our fan base, Mane’s been out of form this season, but that’s far from the case. He’s just not nicking all the headlines.
I aspire to this level of happiness – also, I love football more and more every time I see Senegal.pic.twitter.com/5cJApuKAza
— Ben Webb (@BenWebbLFC) June 23, 2018
Mané didn’t deliver the magic many were expecting against Poland last Tuesday, with him dubbed Senegal’s star player. He didn’t score the goals, and his performance will go by unnoticed by most people. But his unpredictable and intelligent movement and excellent ball distribution had a huge impact on the play and directly led to the Lion’s first goal. After a perfect pass from Mané the ball reached Evertonian Idrissa Gana Gueye, who fired – the shot was going wide, before it reflected off Poland defender Thiago Cionek and in goal. The second goal even more freakish, with M’Baye Niang taking advantage of a poor backpass and could pretty much just put the ball in the open net.
His movement makes him difficult to mark, to pin down, to stop, rarely going for the obvious pass, dribble, space.
Japan’s coach is well aware, and has said ahead of today’s fixture that marking Mané with up to three players is part of their tactics as they’re looking to advance from the group stage. He even highlighted Mane’s impact on his teammates.
Senegal doesn’t have to rely on Mané as much as, say, Egypt have to rely on Mo Salah. Even if Japan’s tactics were successful and they do manage to take Mané out of the game, there is still plenty of quality in the rest of the squad. They are slight favourites against Japan, and are 27/20 to win in Yekaterinburg.
With Mané’s fast and clever movement, most Reds will be hoping Japan’s tactics fails. A victory for either team will guarantee them a place in the round of 16.