Bullish Cisse says Senegal are 'ready for the challenge' of facing Netherlands without Mane

By Sports Desk November 20, 2022

Aliou Cisse concedes Senegal will be without their best player heading into the World Cup but insists his squad are "ready for the challenge".

The African champions suffered the crushing news that star man Sadio Mane would miss the tournament after having to undergo surgery on a fibula injury sustained in Bayern Munich's 6-1 thrashing of Werder Bremen 12 days ago.

Mane's importance to Senegal is highlighted by the fact he has been involved in 12 of the last 25 goals scored by Cisse’s team in the finals of either the World Cup or Africa Cup of Nations.

And his absence has forced a tactical re-think ahead of Monday's opener against the Netherlands at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha.

Cisse said: "Obviously it's a great shame for Sadio and the team, but we have to think of the player's well-being.

"It's a great challenge as all coaches build their team around the best player and that's the case for us.

B"ut we have a strong team with experienced players and young players who are ready to rise to this challenge. I am sure we have a strong enough team. It's not easy to play without a player like Sadio and we have a strong opponent in the Netherlands, but the players are ready.”

Senegal winger Krepin Diatta was a little less bullish, admitting Mane's absence had had an impact within the squad.

The Monaco man said: "Sadio is an extremely important player for our team and we are determined to do what we can without him.

"But of course it affects you, he is our best player and leader. We'd like him to be here, but God decided otherwise.”

Senegal disappointed in exiting the 2018 World Cup in Russia at the group stage, but Cisse believes that experience – and their AFCON triumph earlier this year – stands them in good stead to go further in Qatar.

"In 2018, it had been such a long time since Senegal had been to a World Cup, and we are now getting another chance," he added.

"We are African champions and we have new, excellent players that have strengthened the squad. Hopefully the mistakes of Russia won't be repeated."

In the opposing dugout on Monday will be Louis van Gaal, a man Cisse described as a "benchmark", and the former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder believes guiding his team to successive World Cups is another shot in the arm for African coaches, five of whom are present in Qatar.

He said: "It's progress that we have been seeing for some years now. We are aware that people are looking at us. If we lose in the first round, people will say we aren't good enough.

"I was born in Senegal – it's important to understand the realities of the country you are managing. We are proud to represent African coaches and it's a message we are sending them that they can also be at the highest level."

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