U.S. Markets close in 2 hrs 54 mins

World Cup 2018 team preview: Senegal has a high ceiling, low floor

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group H is Senegal.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group H: 20%
Odds to advance: 43.5%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.7%
Elo rank: 27
Yahoo Sports power rank: 23

Our writers say: The Lions of Teranga have the talent of a quarterfinalist but the uncertainty of a group stage flop. The likes of Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly make them dangerous. A lack of World Cup experience, though, and a manager who seems unsure of what system to play, make them difficult to forecast. Henry Bushnell

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao are just two of many talented players who’ll lead Senegal at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 2nd
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (2002)
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Topped Africa’s Group ahead of Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa
Schedule: Poland (Tuesday, June 19, 8 a.m., FS1), Japan (Sunday, June 24, 11 a.m., Fox), Colombia (Thursday, June 28, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group H preview]

Squad

Manager: Aliou Cisse
Captain: Cheikhou Kouyate (M)
Top players: Sadio Mane (F), Kalidou Koulibaly (D), Idrissa Gueye (M), Keita Balde Diao (F)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: There’s pace all over the field, and power in the positions that require it. The spine of the team, goalkeeper aside, is really impressive. The attacking depth is borderline mind-blowing. The midfield, with Gueye and Kouyate covering a ton of ground, theoretically complements it.

Why they’ll lose games: Theoretically is the key word above. The idea of Senegal remains far better than the actual on-field product. Put another way: It’s tough to decipher a coherent plan when you watch the Lions of Teranga. They’ve never really lived up to the hype their talent generates. They scored a grand total of one goal in recent friendly draws against Uzbekistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Luxembourg. They looked better recently against Croatia, but still dropped a 2-1 decision. If the talent is going to come together, it’s going to have to do so at the last minute.

How they’ll play: Again, it’s not easy to make stylistic predictions with any confidence. Cisse, the manager, might not even know yet. He has experimented with a three-man defense, but seems to have gone back to a four. Senegal will probably press fairly high – or, at least, it has the athletes to, and has at times in the past – but does Cisse have the managerial acumen to systematize the press and make it functional against World Cup-caliber opponents?

Projected lineup (4-2-1-3): Khadim N’Diaye; Youssouf Sabaly, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sane, Lamine Gassama; Cheikhou Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye; Sadio Mane; Ismaila Sarr, Diafra Sakho, M’Baye Niang.

The big question here concerns Mane’s role. With two combative, rangy midfielders in front of the back line, Cisse could decide to deploy the Liverpool attacker as a No. 10, behind a front three. That’s how we have it above. At times, it would look like a 4-2-4.

And in that front three/four, Balde Diao appears to be the odd man out – if Senegal’s final dress rehersal was any indication. He certainly could still start ahead of Sarr or Niang, though.

If Cisse keeps Mane out wide, on the other hand, either Alfred N’Diaye or Badou Ndiaye would be the third midfielder.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Cisse is the boss, and a boss … or at least he looks like one … or at least he does when FIFA forces him to put a substitutes bib over his dress shirt, and when he clips his spectacles to it:


Why to root for them: Cisse, by the way, was the captain of Senegal’s only previous World Cup team, the 2002 squad that stunned reigning champion France in the opener and stormed all the way to the quarterfinals. That story was special, and that team is still held in high regard. This one won’t be as much of a Cinderella, but it has similar potential.

Why to root against them: There’s honestly no good reason. But perhaps you’ll get frustrated with Cisse’s puzzling tactics and hope they come back to haunt him.

If you’re going to watch one game … The Colombia game should be a lot of fun – as long as a draw isn’t sufficient for Los Cafeteros. The Poland game will feature stylistic clashes and a lot of talent, too.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

– – – – – – –

Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
2018 World Cup preview hub
Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
How Vladimir Putin can use the World Cup to his benefit