Players of Senegal celebrate the 2-1 lead during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group H preliminary round soccer match between Japan and Senegal in Ekaterinburg, Russia, 24 June 2018.EPA/Atef Safadi
Wednesday Jul 04, 2018. 09:23
Of the 16 teams to fall by the wayside in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, Senegal were by a country mile the most unfortunate to exit the tournament.
The Teranga Lions were denied progression in the knockout stages on nothing more than a technicality, having finished Group H with exactly the same record as second-placed Japan.
Yet the ‘Samurai Blue’ advanced at Senegal’s expense, making the African side the first to exit on the fair play rule in World Cup history – Japan’s four yellow cards gave them the edge over Senegal’s six cautions.
It truly was a heartbreaking ending for the Teranga Lions, but their inability to close out their second group match against Japan and a lack of discipline was at the heart of their failure.
Aliou Cisse’s side twice led the Asian contenders in their June 24 clash at Yekaterinburg, with Sadio Mane and Moussa putting them a goal up in the 11th (1-0) and 71st (2-1) minute respectively.
But Japan twice levelled the game through Takashi Inui and Keisuke Honda, capitalising on rare errors at the back.
Cisse warned that allowing Japan to recover in the match could come back to bite his team. Little did he know that two late cautions in the game – issued to Youssouf Sabaly and Cheikh Ndoye in the 90th and 91st minutes respectively – would in fact be decisive.
Having had such a great start with their 2-1 win over Poland, Senegal had truly put themselves on the path for the last 16, but taking just one point from their last two matches was a major disappointment.
And when they were truly under the gun, a goal down to Colombia and in need of an equaliser to drag themselves back into the top two of the standings, the Teranga Lions weren’t able to find their roar.