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Senegal ready to end Africa’s England hoodoo in World Cup last 16 showdown

12:35 AM SGT 4/12/22
Inglaterra Senegal octavos de final Mundial Qatar 2022
The Three Lions have never lost in seven meetings to any of the continent’s sides but Aliou Cisse’s purring crew could end that run on Sunday

The final whistle against Ecuador prompted a release of emotion for Senegal who ended a 20-year wait to make it to the Round of 16 at the World Cup again.

The Lions of Teranga had stunned the world on their maiden appearance at the competition, defeating the reigning world champions, France at the time en route to a quarter-final spot where their journey ended.

While this group phase did not witness the giant killing of France or any heavyweight nation, Aliou Cisse must have been pleased by his side’s reaction after a disappointing opening result against the Netherlands.

Questions were asked about the West Africans finding solutions to Sadio Mane’s absence in Qatar, and Ismaila Sarr proved he had what it took to step into a decisive attacking role for the African champions. They lost 2-0 against Louis van Gaal’s men but had matched the European nation until Cody Gakpo netted in the 84th minute before Davy Klaassen doubled the Oranje’s advantage.

They were playing catch-up knowing they had to beat the hosts and get the better of an Ecuador side that had given little away before the finals - they faced an uphill task!

After seeing the South American nation pepper the goal of the Dutch, while giving little away at the other end, the task appeared doubly difficult with a showdown against Group A’s best side to come in the final round of group stage games.

However, Ecuador dropped the ball at the Khalifa International Stadium, owing to their rather passive approach to play for the point they needed. Senegal capitalised with a strong start and the impressive Sarr coolly won the penalty he had impressively won in the 44th minute.

In truth, the West African side ought to have scored way earlier, but for missed chances from Idrissa Gueye and Boulaye Dia in the opening 10 minutes.

Their game management issues threatened to undermine qualification as Ecuador made it 1-1 through someone not named Enner Valencia when Moises Caicedo tucked away from the goalmouth with 23 minutes to play.

The Lions had also ceded territory to Qatar after going 2-0 up and had Edouard Mendy’s saves to thank for the host nation not scoring their first-ever goal before Mohammed Muntari’s header halved the advantage.

They recovered from that mini-setback to score a third. Just as Kalidou Koulibaly netted his first Senegal goal three minutes after Caicedo made it 1-1 to further demonstrate this team’s bouncebackability.

This time, they managed the game better and Ecuador could muster only three attempts in the final 20 minutes.

Cisse briefly became only the second African manager to guide his team to the Round of 16 since the late Stephen Keshi in 2014 before Walid Regragui secured Morocco’s spot in the knockout stage on Thursday.

Senegal’s bracket puts them on a collision course with France, the side they beat on their maiden appearance in 2002, for a semi-final berth where observers could see Cisse do battle with Regragui for a place in the final.

But they must get the better of England before daring to dream.

The Three Lions ended the group phase unbeaten with seven points, interestingly the highest any team in the opening three rounds in Qatar could muster. Tournament favourites Brazil were beaten 1-0 by Cameroon. Argentina had to recover from that shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia to secure progress.

Both sides went into competition favourites to pick up nine points from nine. But they had to make do with six to top their respective groups.

Gareth Southgate gets a lot of stick for his approach and perceived unwillingness to play expansively, but the Three Lions have made it to the semi-finals of both major competitions under his management, making the last four in 2018 and reaching the deciding game in last year’s European Championship.

It does not help that the English are unbeaten in seven meetings against African nations, conceding only three times in those games—two against Cameroon in 1990 and in the 2-1 success over Tunisia four years ago.

They have kept five clean sheets in those seven games, a statistic that adds to the feeling they are superior to African opposition. Without the suspended Idrissa Gueye, who has played against the opposition multiple times, Cisse and his crew face an uphill task.

You still expect the African champions to carry a threat on the flanks, especially if Sarr rehashes his group stage menace in Sunday’s Round of 16 clash.

The underdog toppling a heavyweight always produces a good story. And in this World Cup that has produced a plethora of shock results, Senegal will feel they are primed to end England’s dominance over African teams to secure a quarter-final tie with either France or Poland.

There is no reason to feel inferior, especially in this tournament that has demonstrated the strength of the perceived 'little guy'.