Senegalese football isn’t particularly full of highlights.
Over the years they have achieved very little.
They have never won the African Cup of Nations and their only honour at international level has come in the Amilcar Cabral Cup – which they have won eight times – but with the tournament only including teams from Western Africa, it’s not exactly one that will impress observers from outside the region.
However, for a few months in 2002, all the pieces fell into place and Senegal enjoyed the best spell in their history, despite not picking up any silverware to show for their endeavours.
The year started with Senegal heading into the 2002 African Cup of Nations in good spirits, having managed to secure a place in the World Cup for the first time in their history.
The tournament was to be held in Mali, and Senegal were drawn into a group that included Egypt, Tunisia, and Zambia.
It wasn’t easy for Senegal, but they managed to notch late winners against Egypt and Zambia, before a goalless draw with Tunisia saw them progress to the last eight as group winners. The quarter-final draw pitted them against DR Congo, who were comfortably dispatched to send Senegal into their third AFCON semi-final.
In the semi-final, Senegal took the lead against Nigeria but were pegged back late on as the game went into extra-time. Senegal weren’t going to be denied though, and scored the only goal of the extra 30 minutes to secure a place in their first ever AFCON final.
Cameroon would provide the opposition in the final and – after a goalless 120 minutes – the title would be decided in a penalty shootout.
Unfortunately for Senegal it was a step too far as they were defeated in the shootout, but to this day it is still Senegal’s best ever performance in the AFCON.
While their performances in the AFCON were impressive, that was only the starter and the main course was yet to come as Senegal approached their first ever World Cup.
In most World Cups an African team usually springs a surprise somewhere along the way, and in 2002 it was the turn of the Senegalese and when they did, they had the eyes of the whole world on them.
In 2002, the opening game would be between defending champions, France and Senegal.
Nobody gave Senegal a chance but they were superb on the day as the ran out 1-0 winners over their former colonial masters.
Senegal weren’t done there either, and draws with Denmark and Uruguay took them through to the last 16 were Sweden were defeated, before they fell at the hands of Turkey in the quarter-finals.
Senegal haven’t returned to the World Cup until now, and in the AFCON they have reached one semi-final in the years since, but ended up finishing fourth.
However, this current team looks as good as the 2002 team with Sadio Mane, Keita Balde and Kalidou Koulibaly among the stars on the pitch, and then in the dugout Aliou Cisse is the manager, who is supported by fellow 2002 alumni, Omar Daf, Tony Sylva and Lamine Diatta (who are members of the backroom team).
Group H isn’t the most difficult of groups with Poland, Colombia, and Japan not among the elite teams, although they are all capable on their day.
However, this Senegal side have some top class players, and if they perform like they can then there’s no reason that they can’t emulate the achievements of the 2002 team.
This article originally appeared on gj2018worldcup.wordpress.com, where you can find a definite World Cup guide.