DAKAR, Senegal, May 18 – Senegal has named its final 23-man squad for the World Cup, with Liverpool forward Sadio Mane leading a group that includes key defender Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli and midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate of West Ham.
Coach Aliou Cisse, captain of the 2002 team that reached the quarterfinals in the country’s only previous World Cup appearance, gambled on the fitness of Monaco winger Keita Balde and Anderlecht defender Kara Mbodji.
Balde last played on April 7 while Mbodji missed most of this season with a knee problem but has recently returned to training.
The 20-year-old Rennes winger Ismaila Sarr also made the squad.
The midfield has an English league look with Kouyate, Idrissa Gueye of Everton, Cheikh Ndoye of Birmingham and Pape Alioune Ndiaye of Stoke selected.
Cisse, appointed in 2015, is relying on the players who brought Senegal through the qualifying campaign.
“This team, this selection above all reflects continuity and coherence,” Cisse said at a news conference in Dakar. “For me, it’s essential to preserve this positive dynamic.”
Cisse said he’s been monitoring Mbodji’s recovery and is confident the defender will be fit. If so, he’ll likely form a strong partnership in central defense with Koulibaly.
Much of Senegal’s hopes rest with the 26-year-old Mane, who has been in sizzling form with 10 goals in 29 appearances in the Premier League.
Although it’s only Senegal’s second World Cup appearance, there is plenty of expectation with the squad having been drawn with Poland, Japan and Colombia in Group H at the finals in Russia.
Cisse’s men will have training sessions next week at a resort town outside Dakar before moving camp to Vittel, a city in northeast France.
Mane will join up late as Liverpool prepare for the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 26.
Senegal has pre-World Cup friendlies scheduled against Luxembourg (May 31), Croatia (June 8) and South Korea (June 11).
Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes, France); Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya, Guinea); Alfred Gomis (Spal 2013, Italy).
Defenders: Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy); Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor, Turkey); Moussa Wague (Kas Eupen, Belgium); Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux, France); Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht, Belgium); Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes, France); Salif Sane (Hanover, Germany).
Midfielders: Cheihkou Kouyate (West Ham, England); Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton, England); Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, England); Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham City, England); Pape Alioune Ndiaye (Stoke, England).
Forwards: Sadio Mane (Liverpool, England); Diafra Sakho (Rennes, France); Moussa Sow (Bursaspor, Turkey), Moussa Konate (Amiens, France); Ismaila Sarr (Rennes, France); Keita Balde (Monaco, France); Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke, England); Mbaye Niang (Torino, Italy).