A Sadio Mané-less Senegal will kickstart their World Cup mission in Al Thumama by facing the tournament’s dark horses, the Netherlands.
The reigning African champions were hopeful that Mané would be able to recover from the injury he had sustained and return for the final group match.
But Bayern Munich have confirmed that the forward will need surgery and must stay on the sidelines for the next three months.
Undoubtedly, this came as a big blow for Senegal.
Sadio Mané is one of the best forwards in the world, so his absence will certainly be felt in the Senegalese attack. But the Teranga Lions will have to make do without their talisman.
Senegal’s impressive legacy
Senegal stunned the world when they made their World Cupp debut in 2002.
They saw off defending champions France in their opener and went all the way to the quarterfinals. They returned to the World Cup in 2018, but this time, they had to pack their bags for home after the group stages.
Aliou Cissé was part of the Senegal team that made history in 2002.
The 46-year-old is now the manager of his nation and led them to African supremacy earlier this year. He now faces the uphill battle of progressing to the World Cup knockout stages without his best player.
Cissé should feel confident about his team’s defensive prowess, though, as they have managed to keep the opposition attack at bay in six of their last eight outings.
The return of Van Gaal
Louis van Gaal left the Netherlands to join Manchester United, retired and then came back to manage the Dutch national team for the third time in his career. But, he will feel a sense of continuity when Oranje play Senegal on Monday evening as he oversaw Netherland’s last match in the competition.
The Netherlands finished third in the 2014 World Cup under Van Gaal but went in a downward spiral afterwards as they failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
They did make it to the Euro 2020, but their journey ended in the Round of 16.
Van Gaal came out of retirement to steady the ship and oversee a return to the grandest stage of world football.
There is a genuine belief among the Netherlands supporters that their current crop of players can pull off what many golden generations could not.
Van Gaal has created a cohesive unit that could punch above their weights to upset the biggest names. The Dutch camp will eye a statement win over Senegal to make their mark.
Aliou Cissé has to choose from Iliman Ndiaye, Krépin Diatta, Bamba Dieng and Nicolas Jackson to deputise for Sadio Mané on the left wing.
He could settkle on Monaco’s Krépin Diatta for his pace and dribbling skills.
RB Leipzig centre-back Abdou Diallo is likely to sit out of action as he is struggling with a knee problem.
Memphis Depay did not play since picking up a hamstring injury in September while playing against Poland. So, the Netherlands will be without their highest goalscorer in the qualifiers.
Denzel Dumfries limped off the pitch during Inter Milan’s Serie A clash against Atalanta.
The fullback is likely to be sidelined as well.
Atalanta star Marten de Roon is another player the Dutch medical team has marked doubtful as he is trying to recover from a back injury.
Both teams will miss their best attacking assets, but that should not stop them from testing each other’s defensive resilience.
The three time runner-ups should be able to squeeze out a win because of their superior squad strength. We are expecting a 1-0 win for the Netherlands.