The team that occupies the first place in Africa Senegal will still look for the challenge of the Netherlands in the first match despite the injury of the star player.
Who: Senegal v Netherlands, Group A
Where: Al Thumama Stadium
When: Monday, November 21 at 4:00 p.m. GMT
Ranking: Senegal (18), Netherlands (8)
Face-to-face record: None
Senegal and the Netherlands will approach their World Cup opener with confidence after a string of recent good results.
In February, Teranga Lions won their first African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title after beating Egypt on penalties.
The Netherlands also found success in their continental exploits, topping their Nations League group and securing a brace to boost morale against Benelux rivals Belgium.
Strong attachment to both
Monday’s game is likely to present a big challenge in Group A for both sides, who will be fanning their chances against Ecuador and Qatar, ranked 44th and 50th respectively.
The clash at the Al Thumama Stadium promised to pit Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk against former team-mate and prolific goalscorer Sadio Mané. However, the second winner of the Ballon d’Or award this year injured his leg while playing for the German champions, Bayern Munich and was kicked out of the tournament, which was a blow to the African champions and made his supporters surprised.
“We know we have lost a great leader but I think there will be more players and we should be ready,” said defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
Midfielder Nampalys Mendy agreed.
“You have to be ready, ready before any event, it’s true that the absence of Sado will hurt us a lot… because he is an important player. We also have high quality players, so we are confident in our quality, and we will do everything to show.
However, Micky Jnr, a football journalist specializing in African football, said he is confident that “this Senegalese team will get out of the group”.
He expects Senegal to claim, at least, a point against the Netherlands, or “maybe surprise the Europeans with a win”.
At the back, both teams have several world-class options. Van Dijk has joined Inter Milan’s Stefan de Vrij and Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt for the Oranje. Senegal can count on Koulibaly from Chelsea and Abdou Diallo from RB Leipzig.
Among the sticks, Senegal seem to be stronger with Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy.
Although the goalkeeper has struggled to get good results this season, his international experience outweighs what the Netherlands have to offer. Dutch coach Louis van Gaal has not yet chosen his first number but in the last two games he has given Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer his international debuts at the age of 39.
In midfield, the Oranje have Frenkie de Jong and free forward Cody Gakpo, who continues to light up the Dutch Eredivisie with 13 goals and 15 assists in 24 games so far this season.
“It will be a serious game; I think the battle will be won in midfield,” says Jnr, who points to Senegal’s Pape Matar Sarr, a talented footballer with a “great work rate” as someone to watch.
Senegal have some interesting options in attack, such as Boulaye Dia, who is currently on loan at Serie A club Salernitana de Villareal.
However, Mané will be a big loss for Senegal, whose defense will have to deal with Memphis Depay who seems to be recovering from injury.
“We have players who play at a high level, the biggest club in the world. We have experience. We have talent. We have a good mix. But above all, we have a team spirit. And I think that is the beginning and the key to success.