Premier League dangermen and the spirit of 2002: the lowdown on England’s next World Cup opponents Senegal

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NationalWorld’s African football expert Rahman Osman gives the lowdown from Qatar on the Three Lions’ next World Cup opponents, Senegal.

The Three Lions of England will take on the Teranga Lions of Senegal with a ticket to the last eight of the on-going World Cup at stake. Senegal broke the hearts of the Ecuadorians with Chelsea star Kalidou Koulibaly scoring the winner. All three goals in the game against Ecuador were scored by England-based players, with Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Moises Caicedo cancelling out Watford’s Ismaila Sarr’s penalty for the West African country.

Koulibaly then popped up to score the all-important goal and ensured Senegal reached the knockout stages of the World Cup. Aliou Cisse’s side had lost to Netherlands before beating host nations Qatar and Ecuador. They are one of three African nations to previously make it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, along with Ghana and Nigeria in the past. Senegal also reached the knockout stages of the World Cup at their maiden edition in 2002, the year they famously beat world champions France in the tournament opener.

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Here is everything you need to know about England's opponents in the last 16:

The Spirit of 2002 inspiring the golden general of Senegalese football

The national team coach of Senegal is Aliou Cisse, the same Cisse who was captain when Senegal qualified for the World Cup in 2002 and were incredibly unlucky not to make the semi-finals. He is also surrounded by the core of the team in management positions including the hot-headed former Liverpool and Blackburn forward El Hadji Diouf. Khalilou Fadiga, a great star of that World Cup campaign, is also around the team offering support and guidance to a group that has already made history.

Earlier this year, Sadio Mane led the side to their first AFCON title, defeating Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in Cameroon, before dashing their World Cup dreams a few months later. It's been a truly special era that has exceeded whatever has been done in the past. This generation of Sengalese players turned Dakar, the capital, in effect into a nightclub when they won their first trophy and they will now be aiming to upset England and create memories to last a lifetime against Gareth Southgate’s men.

Key players and danger men

Manager Aliou Cisse has been able to squeeze blood out of stone, uniting a star-studded squad that previously just never saw eye to eye because of egos. The undisputed star star man, Sadio Mane is back in Munich after cruelly injuring his knee, so the onus has fallen on the likes of Sarr, Koulibaly and Idrissa Gueye.

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There is no denying the fact that Mane would have doubled their threat, but most of their players play for top teams in Europe and have been together for the last five years. There is a sense of togetherness, sacrifice and selflessness whenever they take top the pitch. Back home they have the backing of 17.2million Senegalese who cheer them on all the way. The President Macky Sall rewarded each player with £64k cash and a plot of land when they won the AFCON. There will be a party for days if they can knock out one of the tournament favourites England to reach the last eight.

The spirit of Papa Bouba Diop - a Senegalese football hero

Former Fulham and Portsmouth midfielder Papa Bouba Diop, who scored that all important goal when the Teranga Lions stunned France, passed away exactly two years ago this month. Senegal captain Koulibaly paid tribute to him after scoring the winner against Ecuador and there is growing belief that his spirit will help them knock out England.

Koulibaly told the press after scoring the winner against Ecuador. "We wanted to pay homage to him, he made me dream when I was a boy," said the 31-year-old. We knew we wanted to play in his honour, this wasn't something we were going to let slip. This was a special day for Senegal."

It looks like the stars are aligning for the west African country and it will be interesting to see how they approach the game against England. If they can get the team to watch how they beat the world champions in 2002, that would be a good place to start.

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Weaknesses

Two things that could undermine all their work is self doubt and organisation. They will have to believe they are more than capable of beating the Three Lions and stay organised in defence.

One of the weaknesses of the team is when they get carried away by a good moment and lose their shape. Most African teams have some of the best players in the world, but when it comes to staying in games and remaining organised they just lose concentration and that is something that has to be looked at. England are massive favourites for the game but it’s the knockout stage of the World Cup, after all - anything is possible.

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