Senegal 2017 Afcon spy report

HARARE - Despite the vast amounts of talent they have produced in the past years, Senegal are probably the number 1 candidate of the underachievers of African football tag.

The Lions of Teranga have never won the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) with their best performance at the tournament being the second place finish they achieved in 2002 in Mali.

That same generation of players which included the likes of El Hadji Diouf, Pape Bouba Diop, Khalilou Fadiga, Henri Camara, Ferdinand Coly, and Tony Sylva, which lost out to Cameroon in the 2002 Afcon final went on to shock the world at the Korea/Japan World Cup beating then defending champions France 1-0 in the group stage.

That side which was coached by the late Bruno Metsu became only the second African country to reach the quarter-final stage before cruelly losing out to a golden goal from Turkey’s Ilhan Mansiz.

You could go and on listing a number of great African footballers who have donned the famous green Lions of Teranga shirt.

However, regardless of this vast talent pool, Senegal, apart from the class of 2002, appear to press the self-destruct button when they got to the grand stage.

At the last Afcon tournament in Equatorial Guinea in 2015, Senegal failed to even get past the group stages and in 2013 they totally failed to qualify for the tournament held in South Africa.

The West African’s nadir at the tournament probably came in 2012 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon where they also bowed out of the group stages without even winning a game.

“The Senegal team has no soul,” El Hadji Diouf said after the Lions of Teranga’s exit at that time.

“I have always said that Amara Traore knows nothing. He doesn’t have the level of experience and knowledge to handle the team. The FA people are jealous of Senegal’s 2002 generation. They don’t want us to associate with the team. Some of us have experience. I’m completing my coaching course in England and I could be useful to the team but they have mixed politics with football in Senegal and things will never change.”

Following that catastrophe, the Senegal Football Association (SFA) appointed their legendary former captain Aliou Cisse to be interim coach and then on a permanent basis.

Cisse has been basically on a rebuilding exercise his methods are finally paying off evidenced by the Lions of Teranga’s swashbuckling qualifying campaign for the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon where they are in the same Group B with Zimbabwe, Tunisia and Algeria.

One area which has drastically changed with this Senegal squad is their team dynamic as Cisse has managed to eliminate the big egos which proved to be their downfall in the past.

Player-power used to be the order of the day inside the Lions of Teranga set up with SFA quickly bowing down to the players’ demands.

But with Cisse in charge the atmosphere in the squad has drastically changed. It’s like appointing Peter Ndlovu to be the Warriors’ coach.

You are guaranteed that no other player will grow a big head and try to undermine a coach, who has basically achieved everything there is to win.

Senegal are the only team to achieve a 100 percent record during the qualifiers winning all six of their matches in Group K which featured Niger, Burundi and Namibia.

They scored 13 times in six matches at an average of 2.1 goals per game while only conceding two during the qualifiers.

The former PSG and Portsmouth defender’s preferred playing formation is an attacking 4-3-3 due to the impressive forward players at his disposal.

Senegal usually start their matches with Lazio’s Balde Keita, FC Sion’s Moussa Konate and Liverpool’s Sadio Mane occupying the front line.

In midfield, Cisse normally goes with Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye, Newcastle’s Mohamed Diame and skipper West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate.

Anderlecht’s Kara Mbodji, Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, Valenciennes FC’s Saliou Ciss and Lamine Gassama from Alanyaspor form the Lions of Teranga back four in most matches while Abdoulaye Diallo of Caykur Rizespor is the trusted glove man.

The likes of Mame Diouf and Moussa Sow normally occupy the bench in Cisse’s squad with former Chelsea forward Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse no longer regulars in the team.

Cisse is yet to announce his final squad for the tournament but it is certain he is likely to stick with these players mentioned above.

Obviously, as Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa and his technical team prepare for the Senegal match on January 19 in Franceville, their main concern will be on how to stop Mane and the Senegal forward line.

While the likes of Mane and Sow usually make all the headlines, there is one man who is key to this Senegal team — Idrissa Gana Gueye.

Gueye is the one player who makes the Senegal side thrive as he covers every blade of grass on the pitch doing the dirty work.

Before yesterday’s Premier League matches, the Everton midfielder was leading the tackles stats having made 77 already in 16 league matches, stats which place him better than Chelsea’s N’golo Kante.

The 27-year-old’s average successful tackles per game have risen from 4,1 last season to 4,8 for Ronald Koeman’s side.

It is the same scenario with Senegal, where Gueye is central to Cisse’s plans as he is responsible for breaking up the opposition’s play while giving the forwards the freedom to concentrate on doing the business in the final third.

Zimbabwe needs to disrupt Gueye’s rhythm like what most teams who play against Barcelona and Bayern Munich try to do by placing a player close to Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso so that they get little time on the ball.

Due to their size, Senegal will also try to boss their way on the field looking for set pieces where they would expose the Warriors inside the box.

It will be detrimental to give away silly free kicks near the box or corner kicks because the only Warriors players big enough to challenge the likes of Kouyate, Diame, Mbodji and Koulibaly in the air are Costa Nhamoinesu and probably Nyasha Mushekwi.

Senegal would have done their home work and it is a sure bet they will be targeting Nhamoinesu at all set pieces.

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