A national disaster? If the initial reactions to Thursday evening’s announcement that Sadio Mane had pulled out of the squad were to be believed, the Bayern Munich star’s absence has poured cold water on the whole Senegalese challenge in Qatar.
It almost felt as if the Lions of Teranga had registered a defeat even before the tournament had started.
But while the loss of a gem like Mane would be felt by any team, it does not signal the end of Senegal’s hopes at this World Cup. In fact, without their 30-year-old figurehead, the rest of the squad are hoping to collectively assume the individual responsibility that he normally shoulders. And that just might set them free.
“Is there more responsibility on me after Sadio Mane’s injury? We’re a team, we work as a team, we win as a team”, said forward Ismaïla Sarr on the subject.
Even before Mane’s withdrawal had been announced, the vice president of the Senegalese Federation had made an on-the-spot decision to focus elsewhere: “We must tell it like it is: Sadio is injured, and we have to deal with it instead of crying about it.” Abdoulaye Sow went on to make a subtle but pointed remark that Senegal did actually have “25 players apart from Sadio”.
So the question is: who among those 25 will be the focus of Senegal’s attack? With AS Monaco’s Krepin Diatta the key figure on the right, and Sarr indispensable on the left, we could see Boulaye Dia through the centre, though Cisse might decide to unleash Villarreal youngster Nicolas Jackson instead.
Tactically, the coach is not short of options.
Mane’s role as leader meant that his aura spread to the other players, and they will now have to cope without his experience. But the Lions of Teranga have deeper resources in this department too, enjoying a more experienced squad than at Russia 2018™. And while goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is playing in his first World Cup, he has risen in stature since leaving Rennes for Chelsea in 2020 – becoming a UEFA Champions League winner.
Chelsea was also the landing spot this summer for ex-Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, a veteran of the 2018 campaign who now has 64 caps. Already the captain, his role will be even more crucial.
Senegal will surely be counting on him to bring his teammates together around the same objective: to make the team shine, and to show that they can do it without Mane.
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