Idrissa Gueye, Senegal's heart and soul

Idrissa Gueye (Getty Images)
Idrissa Gueye (Getty Images)

Cairo - Indispensable under Alain Giresse, Idrissa Gueye remains central to successor Aliou Cisse's plans at the heart of the Senegal midfield, and has excelled during the country's run to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals.

The one game he missed, through injury, corresponded with the Teranga Lions' only setback in Egypt, a 1-0 loss to Algeria in the group stage. With Gueye in the line-up Senegal have looked a dominant force, in keeping with the team's billing as title favourites.

The 29-year-old is essential to Senegalese plans as the link between Kalidou Koulibaly and the defence and an attack spearheaded by Sadio Mane. Gueye has complemented his renowned ball-winning ability with telling contributions in front of goal, hitting the winner against Benin in the quarter-finals.

"He's a boy with an enormous amount of quality, who is capable of playing as a holding midfielder or much higher up the pitch," said Cisse.

"He is gifted with great technique that allows him to play in pockets of space and have a bit more creativity. If he scores it's because he throws himself forward as well."

Forging ahead is what Gueye has done for several years in the national team. A starter under Giresse, between 2013 and 2015, he has stepped it up a notch in Egypt after a World Cup which saw him restricted in a more defensive role.

In Russia, while Gueye scored with a deflected effort in a 2-1 victory over Poland, his former boss at Lille, Rudi Garcia, regretted that Gueye had not shown his full potential as "one of the greatest players" he has coached.

That message has filtered through, with Gueye tapping into his less-heralded attacking qualities to unpick a deep-lying Benin defence.

"I'm trying to do my best to help my team. I have Papa Ndiaye who's playing in a holding position which allows us to attack, to be close to goal to try and score. I'm helping the team playing this position and I'm very happy," said Gueye, man of the match in the 1-0 win against the Squirrels.

His development has followed that of his team which, after returning to the World Cup following a 16-year absence, is through to a first Cup of Nations semi-final since 2006. "We're a team which is progressing little by little," said Cisse.

To continue their progress they must now navigate a Tunisia side coached by Giresse, who doesn't believe the knowledge from his two-year spell with Senegal will have much impact on the result.

"If the match came down to knowledge of the players that would be a good thing, but the reality is different," said Giresse.

"Knowledge and relationships are one thing but what happens on the pitch is the most important."

For Gueye, a poster boy for the Diambars academy which also produced fellow Senegal internationals Ndiaye and Saliou Ciss, the next step at club level for the Dakar native could be a taste of Champions League football.

After three years at Everton, Gueye came close to joining French giants Paris Saint-Germain last winter only for the Toffees to rule out a move.

According to Jean-Michel Vandamme, who oversaw Gueye's development at Lille from 2010-15, his best is still to come. "Idrissa has built his career steadily. He is like good wine, he gets better with time."

Only time will tell whether 2019 will be a vintage year for Senegal.

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