Few countries at this year’s World Cup have had a more successful 2022 than Senegal, who won their first Africa Cup of Nations title in February to finally rule the continent after a 56-year wait.
Senegal made light work of CAF’s first installment of qualification for Qatar, strolling through their group winning 16 of 18 points available, before edging out Egypt on penalties in March’s tense two-legged play-off.
Having won their maiden Afcon title against the same opponents in identical circumstances a month earlier in Cameroon, before also prevailing in two shoot-outs at July’s Cosafa Cup in Southern Africa, nobody can question Senegal’s nerve in pressured situations.
Mental fortitude underpins the work of a side settled under long-serving manager Aliou Cisse, who also oversaw Senegal’s 2018 World Cup group stage exit, when they were tied with Japan on points but ousted due to an inferior fair-play ranking.
That heartbreak has failed to quell the combative approach of a side brimming with talent. Sadio Mane may now be banging in the goals for Bayern Munich instead of Liverpool, but English football remains heavily represented by the likes of Chelsea pair Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy, Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye and Watford winger Ismaila Sarr.
Even Nampalys Mendy, who has struggled to make the Leicester City team in 2022, has been a fixture at the heart of the Senegal midfield, anchoring play in unflustered fashion while those around him burn through energy.
With February’s triumph still fresh in the memory and a 100 per cent record so far in qualifying for next year’s Afcon, Senegal are heading to Qatar on the crest of a wave and eager to improve on 2018’s narrow early exit.
Manager: Aliou Cisse
Star player: Sadio Mane
One to watch: Ismailia Sarr
World Cup finals appeared in: 2002, 2018
Fixtures: Nov 21 - Senegal v Netherlands; Nov 25 - Qatar v Senegal; Nov 29 - Ecuador v Senegal