Durban — The African Champions, Senegal, began their Fifa World Cup campaign against the Netherlands without their talisman Sadio Mane and contributed to a high quality battle that saw Die Oranje emerge victorious.
IOL Sport football writer Smiso Msomi provides five takeaways from the Senegal v Netherlands encounter:
Senegal are no slouches
A lot of discussions ahead of this encounter saw the absent figure of Mane dominate the headlines as questions were posed on whether his men would be able to perform without him.
The Lions of Teranga, led by Chelsea men Kalidou Koulibaly at the back and Ismaila Sarr of Watford on the offensive end, settled those worries quickly and they pressed their much-fancied opponents and controlled possession for periods of the game as well.
The first half saw the Dutch edge possession stats with just 53% while the two sides had five goal attempts each, a clear sign of a tight contest.
Frenkie De Jong, a star
The 25-year-old FC Barcelona midfielder hasn’t had the best 2022 at club level, appearing off the bench quite often for the Blaugrana.
However, he embraced the world stage in this encounter, almost as a reminder to his most critical followers as to why he is regarded as one of the best players of this generation.
Although it was an even encounter in all aspects, De Jong shone the brightest in the Dutch midfield, completing 86% of his attempted passes and winning 80% of his ground duals, while he was also the architect of the opener for his side, all of this executed with style and poise.
Die Oranje looking thin in attack
The Netherlands had never been beaten since Louis van Gaal returned for his third stint with the national team and a huge chunk of that was because of their ability to blow teams away with their dynamic offence.
Memphis Depay started on the bench while Gini Wijnaldum watched from the comfort of his living room, as Die Oranje struggled to create a consistent flow of clear-cut chances until the latter stages of the match.
Tactical sophistication, a moment of brilliance
Although a moment of brilliance may have settled the affair, a certain degree of credit should be afforded to Senegal’s head coach Aliou Cisse for surprisingly matching the wits of veteran Van Gaal.
The West Africans showed their opponents no respect and lined up in their usual 4-3-3, denying the Dutch time and space to build up from the back and therefore forcing long balls into an isolated Steven Bergwin upfront.
Senegal more than capable of qualifying for last 16
Senegal were listed as the undoubted favourites to emerge from their group out of the five African representatives but there was still anxiety among fans.
However, their performance against their ‘stronger’ European counterparts shows they have enough fire-power and experience to topple hosts Qatar and Ecuador to have a chance of qualifying for the last 16.