Senegal proved why they are - for many - the current standard bearers of African football on the world stage after the Lions of Teranga secured passage into the knockout stage of the 2022 World Cup after their 2-1 win over Ecuador at Khalifa International Stadium.
Goals from Watford forward Ismaïla Sarr and a match-winner from Chelsea’s star center-back Kalidou Koulibaly sealed all three points for Aliou Cissé's men after the run-up to the tournament was met with frustration on the back of national icon Sadio Mané suffering a late injury during Bayern Munich’s final Bundesliga fixture - a 6-2 win over SV Werder Bremen - before the international break which ultimately kept him out of contention this winter.
It is just the second time that Senegal has reached the round of 16 after their historic run to the quarterfinals twenty years ago in Korea/Japan on the back of their famous win over defending champions France. But Senegal may not be the only African nation to emerge from group play in Qatar as Morocco and Ghana are also in pole position to achieve the same feat, making it the first time that three teams representing the continent would have all qualified for the knockout stage.
Ghana’s 3-2 win over South Korea yesterday put Otto Addo’s men in good shape to come out of Group H while Morocco stunned European giants Belgium the day prior in a 2-0 win, with both nations needing just a point on the final day of action to book extended stays.
Most impressively, should all three nations quality, there is a chance that Africa would have bigger representation in the knockout stage than South America, who at the time of writing can only boast Brazil as their lone standard bearer, with Ecuador now eliminated and both Argentina and Uruguay on the ropes coming into their third group stage tie.
For Aliou Cissé on a personal level, his legacy in Senegalese footballing lore has been cemented. Having first captained the west African nation to their first-ever ACFON final in 2002 and then leading his nation to the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup in their first-ever tournament appearance, Cissé has now achieved even bigger things on the touchline having guided his country to their second and third ACFON finals as well as winning it in 2021.
His expert guidance of a Mané-less squad that has hardly been drained of motivation in Qatar deserves a wealth of praise as a nation that many pegged as a potential dark horse is still alive and kicking.