By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Senegal's only prior appearance at a World Cup came in 2002 when they beat holders France in the opening game before going on to reach the quarter-finals, and while that golden era has come and gone a new generation of talent is set to take Russia by storm.
Senegal became only the second African country to progress that far at a World Cup when they reached the quarters in South Korea and Japan but they failed to build on that success and missed out at Germany, South Africa and Brazil.
An unbeaten run through a controversy-laden group has earned Senegal their place in Russia with what could be another imposing generation of players led by talisman Sadio Mane, centreback Kalidou Koulibaly and industrious captain Cheikhou Kouyate.
Strengthened in recent years by the defection of former French youth internationals such as Mbaye Niang and Moussa Sow, and with exciting prospects like Balde Keita and Opa Nguette coming through, Senegal now boast a squad of depth with vigorous competition for places.
They also have a coach with World Cup experience as Aliou Cisse captained the team in 2002. Their 2018 World Cup campaign began poorly as they found themselves 2-0 down in Madagascar in the first leg of their preliminary round tie.
However, they rallied to draw the game before going on to comfortably win the return match and progressed to dominate their group in the next round. The only blemish was a 2-1 loss in South Africa last year which was expunged from the records after FIFA found the referee had manipulated the result on the behalf of a betting syndicate.
The replay took place earlier this month and Senegal won to secure their berth, and they finished the campaign six points ahead of second-placed Burkina Faso.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)