Sunday Nov 20, 2022. 18:02
Senegal are missing a crucial piece in their jigsaw as they prepare to face the Netherlands in the 2022 World Cup at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Monday.
Kick-off is at 6pm CAT (SA, GMT+2)
The Lions of Teranga were dealt a massive blow ahead of the global showpiece when star forward Sadio Mane was forced to withdraw from the squad due to injury.
Mane, who scored one of their four goals at the global showpiece four years ago and was crucial to their maiden Africa Cup of Nations title triumph at the start of 2022, sustained a knee injury during Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga clash with Werder Bremen last week and underwent surgery on Thursday.
His withdrawal from the squad has opened the door for Bamba Dieng or Iliman Ndiaye to showcase their talents on the world’s biggest stage, while Nicolas Jackson will be eagerly waiting in the wings for his first cap.
The African champions are unbeaten in their last four matches and drew 1-1 with fellow World Cup participants Iran most recently.
Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly says they are hoping to inspire a new generation of youths, just as the 2002 World Cup squad did, and has welcomed fans from all nationalities to throw in their support of Aliou Cisse’s side.
“As Aliou reminds us, every time we put on the Senegal kit, we are not just playing a game. We are ambassadors for a magnificent country – a country that many people don’t know enough about,” Koulibaly told the Players’ Tribune.
“At this World Cup, we want to create our own ‘2002 moment’ for a new generation of kids – not just in Senegal but the Senegalese diaspora all over the world.
“That 2002 team played so beautifully that even in defeat, they won. In my neighborhood, the Turkish and the Moroccan and even the French kids were shouting out the names of Diop and Diatta and Diouf and N’Diaye and Cisse and Camara and Fadiga.
“Maybe you had another team, but they were so cool that you could not help loving them, too. Brothers and sisters, as I promised, there is a seat for you at our table. If your team goes out, Senegal is happy to have you.”
The Oranje were heartbroken to have missed out four years ago after reaching the final in 2010 and the semi-finals in 2014.
Louis van Gaal was charge of the team that got eliminated by Argentina on penalties in Brazil and he came out of retirement in August 2021 to stand at the helm for a third stint.
The Dutch are undefeated in 15 games since Van Gaal replaced Frank de Boer and they qualified for the UEFA Nations League semi-finals with a record of five wins and one draw from their six group matches.
Netherlands skipper Virgil van Dijk is set to feature at his first major international tournament at the age of 31, having missed Euro 2020 with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
The Liverpool defender believes Van Gaal’s side has all the ingredients to achieve success on the Arabian Peninsula and is relishing his World Cup bow against Senegal.
“We have to believe in our qualities and ourselves and be confident,” Van Dijk said. “We have a fantastic manager, an experienced manager. We have players who play at the highest level, the biggest clubs in the world.
“We have experience, we have talent, we have a good mixture. First and foremost we have team spirit – I think that’s the start to the key to success. It’s not guaranteed success of course but it’s a good way to start and we’re looking forward to the first game.
“It’s going to be a very big one against the African champions. We’ll do everything in our power to get a good result and start our World Cup in the best way possible.”