Senegalese football has been down and out since their world cup adventure in Korea and Japan 2002. Their national team had turned in weak results culminating in a supporter riot during and after their Afcon play-off loss at home to Ivory Coast in 2012. CAF responded to the riots and stones thrown onto the pitch, by banning Senegal from playing international fixtures at home for the next 2 years.
Friday’s fixture against Tunisia is their second match at Stade Leopold Senghor since the ban was lifted. The first game saw them impressively beat Egypt 2-0. Not only was the result satisfying but the performance was also up to par. Dame N’Doye provided two assists and strike partner Sadio Mane was also a constant threat with his pace and technique, contributing with a goal.
These two players have added extra spice to this Senegalese squad whose earlier editions lacked flair. N’Doye and Mané were prominent once again in the second matchday against Botswana. It was much easier task for the Teranga Lions in Gaborone, as a tw0-goal victory propelled them to the top of Group G.
Coach Alain Giresse, who is a former French international, has chosen a squad based entirely in Europe. There are no shortages of central defenders and defensive midfielders. Momo Diamé is of a different ilk, combining an impressive physique with an offensive threat, as displayed in the Premier League, scoring 3 goals in his last 4 matches with Hull City. It is to be seen if Giresse will change his winning formula and start Diamé, who had come off the bench against Egypt and Botswana. s
There are also questions as to whether Giresse will give Papiss Cisse a chance to impress. Mame Biram Diouf and Dame N’doye were impressive in the previous two fixtures, with Diouf providing 1 goal and N’doye 1 goal and 3 assists. Unfortunately, Diouf had to withdraw from the squad after suffering a hamstring injury whilst playing for Stoke City. Late reports indicate that Ba might also be injured, which lessens Giresse’s headache. Moussa Sow now becomes a contender for the striker position but considering Cisse’s form with Newcastle, the prospects of Sow starting seem improbable.
Pape Ndiaye Souaré, Boukary Drame, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Lamine Sané, are other regulars who have withdrawn from the squad due to injury
Tunisia have also started their campaign in fine form collecting six points from the first two matchdays, though they trail the Teranga Lions on goal difference. Against Botsawa, they trailed 0-1 until the 74th minute, and then scored the winner in the last minute of the game. They did beat Egypt 1-0 away, but without showing too much strength.
Their experienced Belgian coach, Georges Leekens has opted for a relatively young squad mainly consisting of players based at home in Tunisia. The Carthage Eagles have their own share of injury problems as both Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, and Amine Chermiti, are uncertain with muscle strains. Reports from the Tunisian camp say that the North Africans might also have to do without captain Aymen Abdennour, who has been injured for several weeks now. He faces a late fitness test to assess his health before the match.
Tunisia will probably be happy with a draw in Dakar and concentrate on their defensive priorities. Senegal will have to remain vigilant as they are susceptible to swift counter-attacks and dodgy goalkeeping.
Historically, Senegal have never defeated Tunisia. But, tonight, Stade Leopold Senghor will host 53 000 strong voicing their support for the Teranga Lions and hoping they will finally triumph vs. Tunisia. Both sides will see this double-header as an opportunity to seal their participation in the African Cup of Nations next year. A win for each of these two sides will most likely see both teams through.
By Kristian Stroemsaas