In a tournament packed with surprises, Senegal will try to add to the list of stunners in the Round of 16 on Sunday when they take on England, who have never lost to an African side.
If Senegal are to pull off the shock they might have to do it without their inspirational leader and coach Aliou Cisse, who has been sidelined with an illness.
Adding to the challenge the African champions will definitely be without their midfield general Idrissa Gueye, who is suspended for the match at Al Bayt having picked up a second yellow card against Ecuador in their final group match.
“He (Cisse) has been sick for a couple of days now and he let us take charge of training yesterday obviously with his instructions,” assistant coach Regis Bogaert told reporters on Saturday.
“Hopefully tomorrow he will be able to come and be on the bench with the players but we are sure at 10 p.m. he will be there with the team.”
England have faced African opposition 20 times, including seven at a World Cup, and have yet to lose.
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While African nations have lost eight of their nine World Cup knockout round games against European sides, Cisse was there for the one success in 2002 when Senegal beat Sweden to reach the quarterfinals.
Senegal burst into that tournament by defeating reigning champions France and the dreadlocked Cisse has shared those memories with his players ahead of their date with England.
“When he talks he uses data and his own experiences,” Bogaert said. “He was part of that great team in 2002 and I think the team really trusts him because of that experience he had as player.
“Beating England would be a tremendous achievement, I don’t know how important it would rate compared to the victory in 2002, that was important as well. If we can beat a team like England it sends out a very strong message about the progress we have made.”
Cisse has been in charge of Senegal since 2015 and guided the Lions of Teranga to several firsts including their maiden Africa Cup of Nations title this year.
Bogaert explained that Senegal has done their homework and have paid special attention to set pieces – a part of the game where England have been particularly dangerous in recent years.
“We’ve identified some things and the most important thing is set pieces can be decisive in these top matches,” said Bogaert. “We also hope to take advantage of set pieces.
“Our strategy is in place.”