• Who: Senegal against the Netherlands, group A
  • Where: Al Thumama Stadium
  • When: Monday 21 November at 16:00 GMT
  • ranking: Senegal (18), Netherlands (8)
  • Head-to-head record: No

Senegal and the Netherlands are approaching their opening World Cup game high on confidence after a string of promising recent performances.

In February, the Teranga Lions secured their first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title after beating Egypt on penalties.

Supporters cheer as a member of the Senegalese football team lifts the trophy in Dakar
Supporters cheer as a member of the Senegalese football team lifts the AFCON trophy in Dakar on February 7, 2022, a day declared a public holiday by Senegalese President Macky Sall [File: John Wessels/AFP]

The Netherlands have also achieved significant success in their continental exploits, topping their Nations League group and taking two victories against their Benelux rivals, Belgium.

A difficult affair for both

Monday’s game will probably be the biggest challenge in Group A for both teams, who will take their chances against Ecuador and Qatar, ranked 44th and 50th respectively in the world.

The match at the Al Thumama stadium had promised to pit Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk against his former team-mate and prolific goalscorer Sadio Mane. However, this year’s Ballon d’Or runner-up sustained a leg injury while playing for German champions Bayern Munich and has been ruled out of the tournament.

“We know we have lost a great leader, but I think there will be more players who will show themselves and we have to be ready,” defender Kalidou Koulibaly said.

Midfielder Nampalys Mendy agreed.

“We have to be ready, ready for any event, it is true that Sado’s absence will hurt us a lot … because he is an important player. We also have great quality players, so we are confident in our quality and we will do everything they can to show that.”

Still, Micky Jr., a football journalist specializing in African football, expressed confidence that “this Senegalese team will grow out of the group”.

He expects Senegal to at least take a point against the Netherlands, or “perhaps surprise the Europeans with a victory”.

sadio mane
Sadio Mané from Senegal will miss the tournament [File: Mohamed Abd el-Ghany/Reuters]

The battle in midfield

At the back, both teams have several world-class options. Van Dijk will be joined by players such as Stefan de Vrij from Inter Milan and Matthijs de Ligt from Bayern Munich for the Orange. Senegal can count on Koulibaly from Chelsea and Abdou Diallo from RB Leipzig.

Between the sticks, Senegal seems to have the upper hand with Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy.

Even though the keeper struggled with form this season, his international experience more than outweighs what the Netherlands has to offer. Dutch manager Louis van Gaal has yet to settle on his number one, but in the past two games he handed Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer his first international caps at the age of 39.

Al Thumama Stadium
Senegal will play against the Netherlands at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

In midfield, the Oranjes boast Frenkie de Jong and the free-scoring 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 restrained game; I think the battle will be won in midfield’, says Jnr, who singles out Senegal’s Pape Matar Sarr, a talented footballer with an ‘excellent work rate’.

memphis depay
Memphis Depay of Barcelona has scored 41 goals for his country [File: Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters]

Senegal has some exciting options in attack, such as Boulaye Dia, who is currently on loan at Villareal’s Serie A side Salernitana.

However, Mane will be a huge loss to Senegal, whose defense must face Memphis Depay who appears to have recovered from injury.

“We have players playing at the highest level, the biggest clubs in the world. We have experience. We have talent. We have a good mix. But first of all we have team spirit. And I think that’s the beginning and the key It’s not a guaranteed success, of course, but it’s a good way to start,” Van Dijk said on Thursday, while also praising Van Gaal’s leadership.

“We have a fantastic manager, an experienced manager,” he added.

“It will be a very big game against the African champions and we will do everything we can to hopefully get a good result and start our World Cup in the best possible way.”

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