Senegal travel to the Ivory Coast as reigning champions, having won 2021’s Africa Cup of Nations on penalties against Egypt back in February 2022. The Lions of Teranga have a stacked roster of players, and will be considered a real favourite to retain their crown. They would become the first nation since Egypt's squad of 2010 to do so.
How did Senegal qualify for AFCON?
Only Morocco place higher on FIFA’s world rankings than Senegal’s 20th spot, so it was no surprise to see them top their qualification group.
Head coach Aliou Cisse is a seasoned pro at navigating AFCON qualifiers, and his most recent campaign was no exception. His side played in Group L, against Mozambique, Rwanda and Benin. Senegal cruised to the finals, winning four and drawing two, with national hero Sadio Mane topping the goalscoring charts with five goals.
Senegal AFCON 2023 Preview
Who will Senegal play at AFCON 2023?
Senegal’s route to the tournament have been straightforward, but their group is anything but. They are in Group C with Cameroon, The Gambia and Guinea, with many pundits dubbing this a classic ‘group of death' alongside Group E.
Only Egypt have won more AFCON titles than Les Lions Indomptables’ five. They most recently won it in 2017, led by the brilliance of outspoken striker Vincent Aboubakar, who is still a key player. Senegal also have only three wins against Cameroon from nine attempts.
Cameroon also have top quality across the pitch. Bryan Mbuemo has had a terrific start to 2023/24 at Brentford, with six goals and three assists already. Andre-Frank Zambo-Anguissa was a key part of Napoli’s Scudetto winning side last season. Teenager Carlos Baleba has taken like a duck to water at Brighton and despite a rocky start to life at Manchester United, Andre Onana is still one of AFCON's best goalkeepers.
Cameroon will be keen to defeat Senegal after Mane’s men won the previous AFCON on their soil.
Guinea lack the AFCON pedigree of Cameroon, with their best finish coming in 1976 as runners up. However, they are still more than capable of causing Senegal issues this time around, even though Guinea have failed to win in their ten meetings.
Guinea have three Bundesliga stars to beware of. The first is Naby Keita. The former Liverpool midfielder is technically superb, and can change games in a blink of an eye with a flash of skill or incisive through ball. 20-year-old Ilaix Moriba, currently of RB Leipzig is an all-action midfielder hailing from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy.
Finally, Serhou Guirassy has announced himself to the world at Stuttgart this term, with a phenomenal start to 2023/24. In just 11 appearances, he has scored 16 Bundesliga goals. Few strikers at AFCON can match his form, and he stands in the frame to finish up as the next tournament's top scorer.
The Gambia come into this group as the weakest on paper, especially since they are ranked just 126th in FIFA’s world rankings.
Assan Ceesay is the danger man here: the 29-year-old has almost twice as many goals as anyone else in The Gambia’s footballing history. Currently plying his trade at Damac in the Saudi Pro League, the striker will be keen to get one over Koulibaly and co.
Though The Gambia have not beaten Senegal in eight attempts, they have been able to get a draw on an impressive five occasions.
How far will Senegal go?
AFCON titles are only easy to get if you've already got one, and Senegal will see anything other than a run to the final as an immense disappointment. Morocco will still have residual confidence from last year's World Cup, while Nigeria and Cameroon could provide some explosive attacking performances, but from there it's difficult to see who can unduly trouble Senegal.
If current seedings and rankings translate into actual results, they will meet Nigeria in the semi-finals, though Senegal's familiarity with going the distance may shade it. That would land them in a final with Tunisia for which they would be a popular pick based on the array of Premier League talents on show.
Senegal – Predicted AFCON 2023 XI
Aliou Cisse usually sets his side up in a very attacking 3-4-3 system.
Between the sticks, there is one man that stands head and shoulders above his competitors. Edouard Mendy was one of the heroes of Senegal’s previous win and has unquestionable pedigree, having won the Champions League with Chelsea.
Ahead of Mendy, Senegal usually set up with three central defenders, always anchored by the presence of captain Kalidou Koulibaly. Wide of the Al-Hilal man, Nottingham Forest’s Moussa Niakhate and AS Monaco’s Ismail Jakobs will provide some youthful pace to protect against counterattacks.
At the heart of midfield, Spurs’ Pape Matar Sarr has made great strides in this season, and has started 11 out of 14 Premier League games so far. Alongside him, Idrissa Gana Gueye will provide some steely experience, and he has a record 106 caps for Senegal.
Out wide, Krepin Diatta will hold down the right flank with his boundless energy. The left is where things may vary. Against opponents they expect to dominate, Aliou Cisse often gives this berth to another pure winger. But given the tricky nature of this group, natural left back Fode Ballo of Fulham will likely start.
Senegal are full of goals, and start a narrow and fluid front three. Sadio Mane is still a world class forward, and is already his nation's all time top scorer. Alongside him, exciting Marseille duo Ismaila Sarr and Iliman Ndiaye will complete Senegal’s attack.