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Senegal’s Sarr must silence Mane talk vs Qatar

5:57 am AEDT 25/11/22
Ismaila Sarr, Sadio Mane
Senegal must ensure their absent talisman doesn’t continue to hang like a spectre over this campaign

It was unsurprising, after Senegal’s opening defeat by the Netherlands, that Sadio Mane’s absence was still one of the big talking points among supporters.

We get it, Mane is a superstar and a major loss for this team.

He’s the talisman, he netted the winning penalty in the Africa Cup of Nations final as Senegal won their first ever title, he’s the reigning African Footballer of the Year, and he recently came second in the Ballon d’Or.

Everyone understands just what a big loss he is, and just how much his absence will hurt Senegal.

But the reality is, he isn’t coming back.

There isn’t going to be any heroic Mane return, riding over the horizon on a white horse to come back and save the Teranga Lions from group stage elimination at the World Cup.

That ship has sailed.

It’s time now that Senegal attempt to move on from their absent superstar and for the players available to Aliou Cisse to step up and fill the gap left by the Bayern Munich forward.

Of course, the head coach needs much more from goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, whose error against the Dutch ultimately cost the Lions a vital point in their tournament opener.

But he’s not the only player who needs to step up; others can see Mane’s absence as an opportunity, rather than a gruesome twist of fate that will condemn this side to early elimination.

The good news for Senegal is that, having been pooled in the most straightforward of the eight groups, their next two matches are against Qatar and Ecuador.

Even though the latter impressed in their opener, they’re ranked 44th in the world, and Senegal—even without their star player—should have enough to control the match and see off the South Americans.

However, ahead of that match, it’s imperative that Senegal bounce back from their Netherlands defeat with victory over Qatar on Friday.

Considering how poorly the hosts performed in their opener, it would be a major upset if they can take anything from the match, but the Lions must get the best out of their attacking players…and particularly those called upon to replace Mane.

Krepin Diatta and Ismaila Sarr split duties on the left flank during the opener, with the latter in particular enjoying several moments that offered glimpses of his quality.

That’s been the case for a while for Sarr, particularly in English football, where there have been snapshots of his excellence—remember when he single-handedly ended Liverpool’s undefeated streak—but also too many anonymous displays where contests have passed him by.

He’s scored only 10 goals across 50 Premier League appearances, admittedly with injuries punctuating his progress.

Yet the Dutch struggled with Senegal’s crossing—from Sarr, Diatta and the full-backs—early on, as the Lions looked more proactive, aggressive and assertive.

In the 24th minute, he demonstrated his qualities, dropping his shoulder to evade the defender and make some space before curling a right-footed shot that was deflected away by the head of Virgil van Dijk.

He was dangerous, and the Dutch struggled to judge whether he would attempt to shoot or go it alone.

So far in this World Cup, only two players—Christian Eriksen and Antoine Griezmann—have created more goalscoring opportunities than Sarr, while he also beat his man on several occasions, helping to open up the contest and put the Dutch on the backfoot.

Considering how much the Dutch backline struggled to contain him—only Gavi has won more fouls in his opening fixture—the Qatar defence will surely fail to contain Sarr on Friday.

It’s imperative, with Senegal already three points behind Ecuador, that the Teranga Lions forget about Mane and instead focus on the immense attacking talent at their disposal, putting faith in the player who can get them into the knockouts for only the second time.

Sarr must be the man to lead the charge.