- WHO: Senegal v Netherlands, Group A
- Where: Al Thumama Stadium
- When: Monday, November 21 at 16:00 GMT
- Layout: Senegal (18), Netherlands (8)
- Head-to-head record: There is none
Senegal and the Netherlands head into their World Cup opener full of confidence after recent successes.
In February, the Teranga Lions secured their first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title after defeating Egypt on penalties.
The Netherlands have also been very successful in their continental campaign, winning their Nations League group and two encouraging wins against their Benelux rivals, Belgium.
Solid preparation for both
Monday’s game could be the toughest in Group A for both teams, who will fancy their chances against Ecuador and Qatar, who are ranked 44th and 50th in the world, respectively.
The match at the Al Thumama stadium promised to bring together Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and his old team-mate and top scorer Sadio Mané. However, this year’s Ballon d’Or winner suffered a leg injury while playing for German champions Bayern Munich and has been ruled out of the tournament, a blow to the African giants that has left his fans stunned.
“We know we have lost a good leader, but I think there will be many players who will show themselves and we have to be ready,” said Kalidou Koulibaly.
Midfielder Nampalys Mendy agreed.
“We have to be ready, ready before it happens, it is true that the absence of Sado will hurt us a lot… because he is an important player. We also have good players, so we are confident in our game, and we will do everything to show it.”
However, Micky Jnr, a football journalist with knowledge of African football, expressed confidence that “this Senegalese team will progress from this group”.
He hopes that Senegal will take, at least, a point against the Netherlands, or “maybe surprise the Europeans with a win”.
At the back, both teams boast a number of world-class tactics. Van Dijk has been joined by Inter Milan’s Stefan de Vrij and Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt in the Oranje. Senegal can count on Chelsea’s Koulibaly and RB Leipzig’s Abdou Diallo.
Between the sticks, Senegal seems to have the strength with Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy.
Although the keeper has struggled for form this season, his international experience far exceeds what the Netherlands have to offer. Dutch manager Louis van Gaal has not settled on his number one, but in the last two games, he has given Ajax striker Remko Pasveer his international debut at the age of 39.
In the midfield, the Oranje boasts the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Cody Gakpo, who continues to light up the Dutch Eredivisie with 13 goals and 15 assists in 24 games so far.
“Being a cage game; I think the battle will be won between the cuts,” says Jnr, who highlights Senegal’s Pape Matar Sarr, a “very efficient” footballer as a key figure.
Senegal has some interesting options in attack, such as Boulaye Dia, who is currently on loan at Serie A side Salernitana from Villareal.
However, Mané will be a big loser for Senegal, whose defense will have to contend with Memphis Depay who appears to have recovered from injury.
“We have players who play at the highest level, the biggest clubs in the world. We have information. We have the skills. We have a good mix. But first, we have team spirit. And I think that is the starting point and the key to success. “It’s not really confirmed, but it’s a good way to start,” van Dijk said on Thursday, also praising van Gaal’s leadership.
“We have a very good manager, an experienced manager,” he added.
“It will be huge against the African champions and we will do everything we can to get a good result and start our World Cup in the best possible way.”