May 24 (Reuters) - Factbox on the Senegal national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 28 (till June 7)
Senegal’s only prior appearance at the World Cup came in 2002 when they beat holders France in the opening game before going on to reach the quarter-finals. They became only the second African country to progress that far at the tournament.
Aliou Cisse: The 42-year-old has World Cup experience having captained Senegal at the tournament in 2002. A former defensive midfielder, Cisse began and ended his playing career in France, but spent four seasons in the English Premier League with Birmingham City and then Portsmouth. He has helped to usher in a new generation of players for Senegal and built his side around the twin pillars of Liverpool’s Sadio Mane in attack and Napoli centre back Kalidou Koulibaly.
Sadio Mane: The jet-heeled forward will be crucial to Senegal’s World Cup hopes and will be his country’s talisman in attack.
The Liverpool player began the season slowly in the Premier League but found a rich vein of form at the end of the campaign, forming a crucial part of the Merseyside club’s formidable attacking trio alongside Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
Kalidou Koulibaly: Senegal boast a man-mountain at the back, whose pace and strength make him a formidable obstacle for opposing forwards to negotiate.
The defender has been a pillar of Napoli’s Serie A title challenge and even scored the winner as they beat Juventus when the top two played each other in April. While speed and raw power are his principal assets he is also elegant when striding out from the back with the ball.
Cheikhou Kouyate: Senegal’s industrious captain gives them a physical presence in midfield and has become a fan favourite at his club, West Ham United, whom he joined from Anderlecht in 2014.
While he can also operate at the back, his all-action style in the middle of the pitch and imposing stature make him a natural leader at the heart of Senegal’s team.
Senegal’s last two World Cup warm-up matches both ended in draws — 1-1 with Uzbekistan and 0-0 with Bosnia. They are unbeaten in their last seven matches, however, and have conceded only twice in their last five.
How they qualified:
Senegal’s 2018 World Cup campaign began poorly as they found themselves 2-0 down in Madagascar in the first leg of their preliminary-round tie before rallying to draw. They went on to win the return match comfortably and progressed to dominate their group in the next round, but their route to the finals was not without controversy. They lost 2-1 in South Africa but the result was expunged from the records after FIFA found the referee had manipulated the match on behalf of a betting syndicate. Senegal won the replay to secure their berth.
Senegal will fancy their chances of making it into the knockout rounds having been drawn in Group H alongside Poland, Colombia and Japan. Should they make it to the second round, they will play the first or second-placed team from Group G, which features Belgium, England, Panama and Tunisia. (Compiled by Toby Davis; Editing by Peter Rutherford )