Senegal take on Netherlands in Group A of the 2022 World Cup on Monday.
The match will kick off at 4pm GMT in Al Thumama, Qatar, exactly 24 hours after the hosts’ opening match begins against Ecuador on Sunday.
Senegal have suffered a major blow before the World Cup has even begun, with Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane ruled out of the tournament due to a fibula injury, which he sustained against Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga earlier this month.
Head coach Aliou Cisse had hoped that the issue would only prevent his star man from playing in the Lions of Teranga’s first match or two, but Cisse will now have to adjust his tactical blueprint to deal with the absence of the former Liverpool man.
Mane, who scored two winning penalties against Egypt to seal Senegal’s first ever Africa Cup of Nations triumph as well as cement their place in Qatar earlier this year, clearly leaves a major hole to fill in attack, with only Ismaila Sarr and Famara Diedhiou in double figures for goals scored (10 apiece) for their national team.
However, Cisse’s side are generally tough to break down, with six clean sheets in their last eight competitive matches proving to be the bedrock of their recent AFCON success and qualification for the World Cup.
The 46-year-old will almost certainly be looking for his players to keep things tight against Netherlands, before going into more winnable fixtures against Qatar and Ecuador as they look to reach the knockout stages for only the second time in their history.
Netherlands, meanwhile, head into the World Cup in excellent form under Louis van Gaal’s management, having reached the UEFA Nations League finals for the second time in three campaigns.
While the fledgling competition’s credentials are often questioned, all three of Oranje’s Group 4 opponents – Belgium, Poland and Wales – will compete at the forthcoming World Cup, making their points tally of 16 from six matches appear even more impressive than first meets the eye.
Netherlands missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but they did advance to the semi-finals under van Gaal’s tutelage in 2014, ultimately losing to Argentina in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw across 120 minutes.
Widely regarded as the biggest footballing nation never to win the World Cup – having lost three finals in 1974, 1978 and 2010 – there is growing belief that this could be their year despite lacking a sprinkle of star individual quality when compared to their previous near misses.
Starting strong against Senegal on Monday will be important in order to maintain high morale, with van Gaal perhaps emboldened to go for the jugular with the aforementioned absence of Mane on the opposition team sheet.
Mane has withdrawn from the Senegal squad as a result of his fibula injury, which will require surgery, with the likes of Nicolas Jackson, Iliman Ndiaye, Krepin Diatta and Bamba Dieng all fighting for a spot on the left flank in his absence.
Diatta could win that particular battle due to his natural pace and trickery on the ball, while RB Leipzig’s Abdou Diallo may miss out on his country’s first match at the World Cup with a knee issue.
Netherlands, meanwhile, will be without their own attacking talisman, too, with Memphis Depay ruled out of at least their opening match due to a hamstring injury. The Barcelona forward, who scored 12 goals during World Cup qualifying, has not played for club or country since sustaining against Poland in September.
Denzel Dumfries is also doubtful after being forced off during Inter Milan’s Serie A fixture against Atalanta last week, with Marten de Roon unlikely to be available either having missed that match entirely with a back issue.
As such, Jeremie Frimpong and Vincent Janssen may be handed opportunities from the start, although van Gaal could utilise three central midfielders with Cody Gakpo and Steven Bergwijn forming a front two.
Senegal possible starting lineup:
E. Mendy; Sabaly, Cisse, Koulibaly, Ballo-Toure; Kouyate, N. Mendy, I. Gueye; I. Sarr, Dia, Diatta
Netherlands possible starting lineup:
Pasveer; Timber, Van Dijk, Ake; Frimpong, F. De Jong, Koopmeiners, Blind; Klaassen; Gakpo, Bergwijn
We say: Senegal 0-1 Netherlands
With both teams missing their most potent attackers through injury, we can envisage a cagey encounter between these two nations in Al Thumama on Monday.
Mane’s injury is undoubtedly a huge blow to Senegal’s chances of making an impact at the World Cup, with Netherlands’ superior strength in depth and technical proficiency likely to see them edge a tight fixture.
CREDIT: SPORTS MOLE