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For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews a...

World Cup 2018 team preview: Senegal has a high ceiling, low floor

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Outlook
Odds to win Group H: 20%
Odds to advance: 43.5%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.7%
Elo rank: 27
Yahoo Sports power rank: 23

Our writers say: The Lions of Teranga have the talent of a quarterfinalist but the uncertainty of a group stage flop. The likes of Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly make them dangerous. A lack of World Cup experience, though, and a manager who seems unsure of what system to play, make them difficult to forecast. — Henry Bushnell

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao are just two of many talented players who’ll lead Senegal at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
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Basics
World Cup appearance: 2nd
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (2002)
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Topped Africa’s Group ahead of Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa
Schedule: Poland (Tuesday, June 19, 8 a.m., FS1), Japan (Sunday, June 24, 11 a.m., Fox), Colombia (Thursday, June 28, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

Squad
Manager: Aliou Cisse
Captain: Cheikhou Kouyate (M)
Top players: Sadio Mane (F), Kalidou Koulibaly (D), Idrissa Gueye (M), Keita Balde Diao (F)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown
Why they’ll win games: There’s pace all over the field, and power in the positions that require it. The spine of the team, goalkeeper aside, is really impressive. And the attacking depth is borderline mind-blowing.

Why they’ll lose games: The idea of Senegal remains far better than the actual on-field product. Put another way: It’s tough to decipher a coherent plan when you watch the Lions of Teranga. They’ve never really lived up to the hype their talent generates.

How they’ll play: Again, it’s not easy to make stylistic predictions with any confidence. Cisse, the manager, might not even know yet. He has experimented with a three-man defense, and his personnel might suit a 3-4-3, but when he did experiment, it was with a reserve side. Senegal will probably press fairly high – or, at least, it has the athletes to, and has at times in the past – but does Cisse have the managerial acumen to systematize the press and make it functional against World Cup-caliber opponents?

Projected lineup (4-3-3): Khadim N’Diaye; Youssouf Sabaly, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sane, Lamine Gassama; Cheikhou Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye, Alfred N’Diaye; Keita Balde Diao, Diafra Sakho, Sadio Mane.

There is a lot of uncertainty here. Aside from Koulibaly, Kouyate, Gueye and Mane, no outfield player is a safe bet to start. Kara Mbodji could be picked ahead of the more talented Sane at center back. Saliou Ciss is an option at left back. The third central midfield could be Alfred N’Diaye or Badou Ndiaye.

Or, Mane could play as a No. 10 in front of Kouyate and Gueye. That would open up an extra place on the team sheet at forward, where there are more than twice as many options as picks for Cisse to make. Among those options, in addition to the three projected starters, are Mame Biram Diouf, Moussa Sow, M’Baye Niang, Moussa Konate and Ismaila Sarr.

Rooting Guide
What makes them unique: Cisse is the boss, and a boss … or at least he looks like one … or at least he does when FIFA forces him to put a substitutes bib over his dress shirt, and when he clips his spectacles to it:

Why to root for them: Cisse, by the way, was the captain of Senegal’s only previous World Cup team, the 2002 squad that stunned reigning champion France in the opener and stormed all the way to the quarterfinals. That story was special, and that team is still held in high regard. This one won’t be as much of a Cinderella, but it has similar potential.

Why to root against them: There’s honestly no good reason. But perhaps you’ll get frustrated with Cisse’s puzzling selections in attack and hope they come back to haunt him.

If you’re going to watch one game … The Colombia game should be a lot of fun – as long as a draw isn’t sufficient for Los Cafeteros. The Poland game will feature stylistic clashes and a lot of talent, too.

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