Wednesday 20 June 2018, 07:42

N'Diaye rises to occasion for Senegal

  • Alfred N'Diaye was a surprise starter for Senegal in their opening win

  • Senegal became the first African team to win a game at Russia 2018

  • Watch the highlights from Senegal's 2-1 victory over Poland​

By Cynthia Nzetia with Senegal

Few expected to see Alfred N’Diaye lining up for Senegal’s opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ against Poland, in place of the team’s talismanic captain Cheikhou Kouyate.

“Why did Alfred play? He performed well in the warm-up matches,” explained Tony Sylva, Senegal’s goalkeeping coach and an assistant to head coach Aliou Cisse. “Cisse studied Poland in depth and sent out the best possible team for the match. And Alfred was part of it. Obviously there were some technical errors and he can do better, but his performance was very encouraging in terms of what lies ahead.”

“When the coach told me I was starting, I said to myself that I had to rise to the occasion, which is what I tried to do,” said N’Diaye, who no doubt owed his place in part to his understanding with Idrissa Gana Gueye. The two combined to good effect in midfield on Tuesday. In dispatching their defensive duties and pressing their opponents at every opportunity, they did much to blunt the Polish threat, while also playing valuable attacking roles by starting moves and getting into goalscoring positions.

“Idrissa’s reading of the game and ball-winning ability are huge attributes in midfield,” said N’Diaye, who plays his club football for Wolverhampton Wanderers, of his Everton-based colleague. “He makes my job easier and we spoke a lot on the pitch.”

Senegal have often been accused of lacking a vocal presence, someone who is not afraid to raise their voice and spur the rest of the team on. But perhaps the Lions of Teranga have finally found that player in N’Diaye. Against Poland, the Paris-born midfielder never stopped urging his colleagues to do better.

A surprise inclusion in Cisse’s 4-2-3-1 formation, N’Diaye contributed to another unexpected development, as the Senegalese saw off a team sitting in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Their win was all the more notable for the fact that the four other African representatives in Russia had all lost their opening games. “Senegal represent the whole of African football. The whole continent is behind us,” said Cisse after the match. “I’m getting calls from everyone and people believe in us. We’re proud to represent Africa. Winning the first match gets you going, but the second match is important too, and the third.”

Poland v Senegal: Group H - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia