Sadio Mane and the rest of Senegal's modern day stars owe class of 2002 a huge debt
Manager Aliou Cisse was part of the Senegal team that beat defending champions France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup, paving the way for generations of Senegalese to showcase their talents across Europe
The tectonic plates below South Korea and Japan shifted seismically in 2002 when Senegal rocked the footballing world with a 1-0 victory over reigning world and European champions France, the West Africans dethroning their former colonial masters in one of the World Cup's biggest upsets.
The victory would elevate players who barely registered on anyone's radar outside of Senegal to overnight sensations, earning several of them moves to Europe, showcasing the hidden gems waiting to be discovered across an entire continent.
The likes of Aliou Cisse, the current manager and an integral member of the side that would reach the last eight; El Hadji Diouf, a player who if he was half as good as he thought he was would be twice as good as he actually was, in attack; and Papa Bouba Diop, the hulking midfielder nicknamed "The Wardrobe" and scorer of the goal that would inflict a bruising defeat on Thuram, Desailly, Vieira, Petit, Henry and co would all go on to make their mark in the English Premier League to varying degrees of success.
Cisse, the tigerish defensive midfielder responsible for snuffing out the threat of Youri Djorkaeff and David Trezeguet, was the mastermind behind blunting an admittedly toothless Poland attack spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski in Moscow on Tuesday.
The mane may be a different colour, but it was still instantly recognisable as Cisse prowled the touchline, barking instructions at his players, communicating with them through a series of gesticulations that surely only they could understand.
Cisse offers a tangible link to both the past and the present. And while victories over France in 2002 and Poland in 2018 are incomparable, it does highlight how Senegal's current crop of stars owe their predecessors for blazing a trail for them to succeed in Europe.
In the Premier League, Cisse and Diop went on to become cult heroes at Birmingham City and Fulham respectively; Salif Diao was a part of the Liverpool squad that would lift the 2003 League Cup; while Amdy Faye, Habib Beye and Henri Camara would represent Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic and Wolverhampton Wanderers in England's top flight.
Even Diouf, who was named man of the match in that historic France match, looked to be persona non grata after a series of unsavoury incidents while at Liverpool, before being taken under the wing of Sam Allardyce, resurrector of many a fallen career, at Bolton Wanderers.
For Cisse, Diop and Diouf, we now read Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane. Koulibaly, the Arsenal target and Napoli defensive stalwart; Gueye, whose tackling statistics are the highest of any midfielder in England's top flight over the past three years; and Mane, one third of a prolific Liverpool troika that blitzed its way to this year's Uefa Champions League final in which he would score in a losing effort to Real Madrid, are the star names, but plenty of others have established themselves across Europe's top five leagues.
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Papa Alioune Ndiaye impressed in his six months at relegated Stoke City; Alfred Ddiaye has just helped Wolves win promotion to the Premier League; Salif Sane has just joined Schalke, who claimed a runner-up finish in the Bundesliga this past season and with it Champions League football; similar feats were achieved by Keita Balde with Monaco in Ligue 1.
The 23-year-old speedster M'Baye Niang, scorer of Senegal's second goal in the 2-1 win over Poland, has endured a nomadic playing career that has seen him represent six clubs in three countries, but plenty will be familiar with the acceleration that led him to beat the onrushing Wojciech Szczesny before slotting home into an empty net.
Senegal join Japan on three points at the top of Group H in Russia. The pool of players that Cisse has at his disposal as manager are more seasoned and travelled than the ones he called teammates back in 2002.
But their impact on this modern-day Senegal should never be underestimated.
Updated: June 21, 2018 10:52 AM