The reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions' title defense at the Stade de Yamoussoukro against Gambia will be an acid test, judging from the previous matches when the supposed underdogs have been springing surprises against the big team.
Nigeria played a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea, while Egypt drew 2-2 against Mozambique, and the last match saw Cape Verde defeat Ghana. The 2023 AFCON is so unique that it features no less than 12 former champions who are fighting to displace Senegal, while the so-called underdogs are also making the African Mundial more competitive.
Another interesting thing to know is that Senegal and Gambia once belonged to the same confederal state, which makes the match more debatable.
Now that the defending champions will take on Gambia for the first time in this competition, it is believed that the rest of the continent will be looking at how they will fare against each other, although they have both met on four previous occasions, which ended in two wins for Senegal, while the other two matches ended in a tie.
Gambia, playing their second appearance, should not be under pressure, unlike Senegal, which has everything at stake. The only remarkable effort made by the Scorpions of Gambia was at their first appearance in 2021, when they defeated Tunisia to qualify for the semi-finals. While the bookmakers may consider Senegal favourites, the repeat of Tunisia's fall two years ago may come to mind that no country is unbeatable.
Senegal have been impressive in their last matches, winning six with one loss in a friendly to Algeria. The Scorpions of Gambia, on the other hand, have not been impressive so far, losing their last two international matches.
Although there are some injury worries for Senegal, the team should have good replacements, especially in the attack. Forwards such as Nicolas Jackson and Al Nassir goalkeeper Sadio Mané are expected to provide the much-needed bite to nail the West African neighbors.
This Senegal defense also needed to be alive to keep the Scorpions at bay if they wanted to take anything out of the game. The likes of Serge Aurier, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Fodo Ballo-Toure are just some of the names that will try to keep Gambia at bay.
The Teranga Lions have kept clean sheets in each of their last four internationals and could continue that trend on Monday afternoon. Gambians will be looking to 19-year-old star Yankuba Minteh to carry their attack, but the youngster only has one cap for the national team and could have a tough time in their AFCON opener.
Prediction: Senegal wins.