World Cup Group H: Senegal look to stave off onrushing Colombia
It’s a case of winner takes all on Thursday, when Senegal clash with Colombia at Samara Arena in the final round of Group H matches. The Terenga Lions have the advantage with four points on the board; a draw will seal safe passage. Colombia, meanwhile, must win at all cost to remain in Russia.
Compared to other African sides, Senegal has done pretty well so far. An impressive opening round victory over Poland was followed by a precious hard-fought point against Japan. Colombia, on the other hand, took out the frustration of losing to the Asians on Poland, hitting them for three.
The pair has faced each other just once before, in a friendly in May 2014, with Colombia taking a 2-0 lead into half-time, only to concede twice in the second half. Senegal has met just one South American opponents in the World Cup, drawing 3-3 in the final group stage game of 2002 against Uruguay.
FIFA Ranking: 27th
Aliou Cisse captained that Senegalese team that ran rampant all the way to the quarter-finals in Japan/Korea. The youngest manager at this year’s edition is poised to go one better this time, to the last four. But just before dreaming of such magnificent feat, they must tame an utter deadly Colombian attack.
Even with Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal was porous at the back against Japan; squandering the lead twice. Radamel Falcao and company would be licking their chops. Senegal’s strength lies in attack. Sadio Mane will once again be the focal point, having opened his account in style against Japan.
Cisse has tried two systems already. Against Poland, M'Baye Niang paired Mame Biram Diouf in an orthodox 4-4-2 system. The 42-year-old opted for just the AC Milan forward when they faced the Asians. He would likely adopt the same system against Colombia.
Senegal predicted XI (4-1-4-1): K.N'Diaye; Wagué, Sané, Koulibaly, Sabaly; Gueye; Alfred N'Diaye, P.N'Diaye, Sadio Mané, Ismaïla Sarr; Niang.
FIFA Ranking: 16th
Being one of the most experienced managers around, Jose Pekerman needs no extra motivation on Thursday. The 68-year-old Argentine has never exited at the group stage on two previous occasions. In fact on both, he reached the last eight.
Pekerman will be encouraged by his team’s improved showing against Poland. The creativity and industry of fit-again James Rodriguez proved vital. Colombia was ruthless in attack and brave at the back. Should Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and James come to the party early, then another African nation may just return home.
There won't be many changes to the side that defeated Poland. After serving a one-game ban for the straight red card, Carlos Sanchez will return to the squad but unlikely to start. Instead, Pekerman could stick to Mateus Uribe who impressed in place of injured Abel Aguilar. David Ospina should shake off the knock on his right foot to start in goal.
Colombia Preicted XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Mojica, Sánchez, Mina, Arias; Barrios, Uribe; Rodríguez, Quintero, Cuadrado; Falcao.
This could be a potentially entertaining game. Senegal’s opening two matches yielded seven goals and they aren’t likely to change their approach or set-up here. Colombia conceded twice against Japan struck thrice against Poland.
Both teams will throw everything in this one. However, the Terenga Lions’ enigmas at the back may cost them dearly. Even if they succeed to break Los Cafeteros’ defence, the South Americans would outscore them.