Durban — African champions Senegal will open their World Cup campaign with a daunting challenge against the Netherlands at the Al Thumama Stadium today at 6pm.
The biggest stars on the planet have descended on Qatar but some have been relegated to mere supporters of their nations, one of them being inspirational Senegal captain Sadio Mane.
The Bayern Munich forward will play no part at the global showpiece after rupturing his right fibula while turning out for his club in the Bundesliga.
This means coach Aliou Cisse will have to turn to other players in the change-room as the Lions of Teranga look to upset the odds against a powerful Dutch team.
The 30-year-old Mane’s influence on Senegal can not be underestimated as he almost single handedly won them the Africa Cup of Nations in February and took his team to Qatar via a playoff match, on both occasions edging Mohamed Salah’s Egypt.
However, without the talismanic Mane, Cisse will have suitable replacements in Watford’s Ismaila Sarr and Boulaye Dia, who turns out for Serie A club Salernitana. Sarr has scored six goals, along with four assists, in 17 matches this season while Dia has recorded eight goal involvements in 14 games for his club.
The most difficult test for Senegal is expected to come from the opposite end as they look to shut-down the offensive prowess of the Oranje. While Barcelona man Memphis Depay struggles for fitness, Dutch teenage sensation Cody Gakpo is set to light up this year’s World Cup for coach Louis Van Gaal’s team.
The PSV Eindhoven forward is having a campaign to remember, and is already being linked with the biggest clubs in the world. His astonishing record of nine goals and 12 assists in his opening 14 league outings this season makes him a dangerous threat against Senegal.
The west-African outfit are expected to go deep into the tournament, but they will have their hands full in this encounter while history is stacked against them as well.
The Netherlands have only lost twice to an African team in their entire history, winning 12 matches and drawing five.