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Anyone But Them! . . . Five Reasons To Salute Senegal Ahead of their Game against England

So, with Wales back home after leaving the World Cup at the group stage, it’s time to focus on the rest of the tournament.

In other words, who can stop England from “bringing it home.” Just imagine if they did. We’d all have to move home, otherwise we’d never hear the end of it.

Before England start dreaming big style, though, they first have to get through a rather tricky looking last 16 tie against Senegal on Sunday.

The West Africans started the tournament slowly with a 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands, but got their mojo back by beating Qatar 3-1 and then brushed past Ecuador, 2-1, in their final tie to finish runners-up in Group A, behind the Netherlands.

Need some reasons to get behind the Lions of Teranga? Here’s five:

1) Aliou Cisse

The Senegal manager, as well as being one of the coolest-looking national coaches in Qatar, also happens to be a legendary figure for his nation.

Whenever the Lions have achieved something memorable and worthwhile, Cisse has been at the centre of it.

The Senegalese have qualified for the World Cup finals on three occasions and reached the AFCON Final three times and – either as a player or a coach – Cisse has been there every time.

Their greatest moment under a World Cup sun took place in 2002, when Senegal beat the defending champions, France, in the opening match of the tournament, and Cisse was at the heart.

Now, as coach, he has the pedigree of having guided Senegal to become champions of Africa for the first time in their history after they overcame Mo Salah’s Egypt earlier this year.

England may have Gareth Southgate, who’s taken his own Lions to a European Championship final and a World Cup semi-final.

But Southgate’s suits and waistcoats are no match for Cisse’s cap and dreads.

“He is like a gift from God,” said one of Cisse’s assistants the other day.

That’ll do.

2) The heart of a Lion.

Known as the Lions of Teranga – Teranga being a mood, a vibe, a spirit of generosity – these Lions know to overcome adversity.

Not only did they overcome the odds to beat Egypt on penalties in that AFCON final, but they have also progressed here without their greatest player, Sadio Mane.

The former Liverpool star, now with Bayern Munich in Germany, was injured on the eve of the tournament and had to withdraw from the squad.

But, undaunted after that initial loss to the Dutch, the Senegal show was put back on the road, proving they will not fold easily against England, even if they fall behind to a Harry Kane goal or two.

Lions by name, lions by nature.

3) The claws of a Lion

Without Mane, you might have imagined Senegal would struggle for goals. Lions with no teeth, maybe.

But not a bit of it. They have banged in five in their last two matches, with Ismaïla Sarr – well known to Cardiff and Swansea City fans for the trouble he gives them playing for Watford – linking well up front with Boulaye Dia and Iliman Ndiaye.

Sarr often has Watford fans tearing their hair out. He may be inconsistent but when he’s in the mood you wouldn’t want him running at Harry Maguire if you were an England fan.

He’s won over 50 caps at the age of 24, while Sheffield United’s Ndiaye is another who will not be bothered by playing against England.

If those two don’t score, then Dia might. He grabbed one against Qatar and is holding down a place with Italina Serie A side, Salernitana.

4) The tail of a Lion

At the back, Senegal can count on the swipe of a powerful tail to crush the threat of Kane and Marcus Rashford.

They have the quality of Chelsea defender Kalidou Koulibaly in their ranks and while he’s known for the odd howler, he’s a very accomplished player.

He can also score crucial goals as he showed with his winner against Ecuador in a game that might have ended with Senegal going home.

Alongside Koulibaly is Abdou Diallo – who is on loan at RB Leipzig from Paris Saint‑Germain this season.

They conceded two against the Dutch and you would think Kane and Co. will fancy their chances of more, but this a defence that kept Sala quiet for two hours in that AFCON final.

5) The Lion Kings?

It’s the great circle of life, isn’t it?

England lose to Iceland at Euro 2016 and the whole Welsh squad are filmed laughing at them. Wales get beaten 3-0 at this World Cup and their fans are trolled by blokes dressed up in Crusaders outfits. Confident England get their comeuppance at the hands of Senegal.

Certainly, that’s how El Hadji Diouf, the former Liverpool striker sees it. Now the assistant coach of the Senegal side, this is what he reckons about English expectations.

“I never say Senegal can’t win,” said Diouf.

“It reminds me of when we play against France: they win the game before they play it and I think England today do the same thing, which is good for us.

As for Lion King Cisse, he says, “Simba, let me tell you something my father told me.”

No, he doesn’t.

He says: “It is now a win or lose situation – there are no second chances. If you win, you go through, if you lose, you go home.”

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