When the World Cup began, I have to admit that Group H was one I found difficult to call. The lack of a European or South American heavyweight meant that Poland, Colombia, Japan and Senegal all had realistic chances to qualify for the knockout stages.
As it stands after two group games, Senegal and Japan are heading through to the last 16 of the competition. However, this afternoon’s clash between the pair could be pivotal in who makes the knockout stages.
Sorry Japan, as a neutral you cannot help but will Senegal to succeed in Russia. The players have shown such enthusiasm, pride and determination so far. There was even a video of the players in training, enjoying themselves, dancing and singing. It was just brilliant.
The fans also did themselves full proud after they stayed behind to tidy up after themselves following the group opening 2-1 victory over Poland.
Senegal has quality in their squad
It should not surprise us that Senegal won their first game. They have quality in their team, chief amongst them Liverpool’s electric winger Sadio Mane. The former Southampton player is brilliant on his day. Mohamed Salah’s triumphs often overshadow the winger’s displays last season, but make no mistake Mane is a top player.
Having watched Idrissa (Gana) Gueye for the past few seasons at Everton, there was no doubt that he would be a key player for his country at the World Cup.
In the past, Gana has been compared to Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, as he just seems to have such energy and willingness to win the ball back. He has picked up where he left off at Everton at the World Cup.
In defence, Senegal also has the immense Kalidou Koulibaly, who has established a massive reputation at Italian club Napoli over the past few years. The 27-year-old has been linked with a number of big moves, including to Premier League Chelsea.
In short, a number of the Senegal squad play their football at big clubs, in some of the biggest leagues in the world. For me, they always looked the best equipped of the African nations to make the last 16.
Could they make history?
Senegal has only ever qualified for one World Cup, with their only previous appearance coming back in 2002. The Lions of Teranga made it to the quarter-finals in Japan/South Korea, becoming only the second team from the continent to reach the quarter-finals, with Cameroon in 1990 the first ever African team to reach the stage.
With qualification for the last 16 well within their grasp, could Aliou Cisse’s team go where no African team has gone before? If they show the same quality, determination and enthusiasm as in their opening game for the rest of the tournament it is hard to rule them out.
Japan v Senegal one to watch
I have to admit that at the start of the competition this would not have been one of the standout group games of the tournament. However, both teams produced good performances in their opening games and I am now looking forward to it.
Japan headed into the competition in unconvincing form, but an opening game win over Colombia has boosted confidence in the Blue Samurai camp. The fact that the South Americans had a player dismissed very early in the game did make a major contribution, though.
I really do fancy Senegal to win this game. It seems the bookmakers also fancy Senegal to beat Japan, as they are odds of 29/20 to beat the Asian nation later today.
The Senegal squad, coaching staff, players and fans epitomise what a World Cup should be. It should be about joy and pride in your national identity. No doubt they are not the only country in Russia who display those traits.
However, for me everything about Senegal at the World Cup has been positive and long may it continue in Russia for the lions.
Will Senegal make it to the knockout stages of World Cup 2018?
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