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World Cup 2022: Are we going to witness ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ Mendy in Senegal’s Ecuador showdown?

11:30 PM IST 28/11/22
Edouard Mendy Senegal World Cup 2022
Aliou Cisse will hope his custodian is at the top of his game when the Lions of Teranga do battle with the South Americans for a qualification spot

We have had only two rounds of games at the World Cup in Qatar, but Edouard Mendy's tournament has been eventful.

On the one hand, the outstanding form showcased in Chelsea’s Champions League-winning campaign that prompted uproar when Gianluigi Donnarumma beat him to the Yashin Trophy in 2021 has been evident. Whereas on the other, the mistakes that have undermined most of the Senegal goalkeeper’s 2022 have been exhibited.

Mendy came into the global showpiece with a point to prove. He has lost his place in Chelsea’s XI to Kepa Arrizabalaga and, despite the Spaniard’s injury in the weeks preceding the finals, is not expected to start under Graham Potter after the tournament.

The focus before Senegal’s opening game with the Netherlands was Sadio Mane’s absence and Aliou Cisse’s ingenuity in finding solutions to his talisman’s non-involvement in Qatar. By the end of that meeting at the Al-Thumama Stadium, the former Stade Rennes man was receiving so much censure that some even called for him to lose his starting berth.

Mendy had not been awful against Louis van Gaal’s crew. If anything the night was going accordingly for the goalkeeper who did not have a save to make until the final 10 minutes against a tame Dutch side who struggled for inspiration in the attacking third.

Thus, it was damning that the 30-year-old goalkeeper was picking the ball from the net from the European nation’s first moment of quality. Even worse was how much avoidable it was as it was not a rocket from long range that had little or no chance of being stopped.

The Chelsea man was beaten to Frenkie de Jong’s well-weighted ball by Cody Gakpo, who headed Van Gaal’s team in front with six minutes of normal time to play. A distraught Mendy knew the criticism that was coming his way.

More salt was rubbed into the custodian’s wounds when he conceded the second after making a hash of Memphis Depay’s weak effort, parrying the ball into Davy Klaassen's path, who made it two.

The fact that it bore similarities to Brighton & Hove Albion’s fourth in Chelsea’s defeat at the Amex in October was even more damning. It essentially magnified a flaw in the shot-stopper’s technique.

Mane’s absence dominated headlines before kick-off, but Mendy’s howlers incensed observers who had skin in the game or felt the Lions of Teranga were sabotaged by their goalkeeper’s shortcomings.

The 30-year-old needed to show something different with Senegal needing a victory over Qatar to avoid a disappointing early exit from a competition many had them as Africa’s favourites to go deepest in.

What followed against the tournament hosts was ‘good Mendy’, who made two outstanding saves in the 3-1 win. The final score suggests it was straightforward but it did not go as swimmingly as the result showed.

Qatar had Expected Goals of 0.96, slightly higher than the Netherlands’ 0.67, with most of those efforts coming in the second half after the African champions went 2-0 up.

Cisse’s crew failed to manage proceedings after doubling their advantage through Famara Diedhiou in the 48th minute, inviting unnecessary pressure when continuing on the front foot was the more effective way.

It took two top saves from Mendy within four minutes to prevent the Maroon from halving their deficit earlier than Mohammed Muntari’s 78th-minute header.

The first saw the goalkeeper extend to divert Almoez Ali’s low effort for a corner just after the hour, and the latter had him thwarting Ismael Mohammed from point-blank range in the 67th minute.

The mistakes were gone. The confidence was restored. Indeed, Mohammed’s fiery reaction typified the stunning nature of the Chelsea goalkeeper’s second stop.

That 3-1 win put Senegal’s World Cup campaign back on track after their Dutch disappointment but it will count for nothing if they do not get past Tuesday’s Ecuador test. The South Americans may be reliant on Enner Valencia — who has netted the nation’s last six World Cup goals — but they have been the best side in Group A.

They limited Van Gaal’s men to two attempts in 90 minutes — with both efforts coming from outside the penalty area — with Gakpo’s brilliant strike last Friday being the first goal conceded in seven games by the Ecuadorians.

Their xG outdoes the three remaining sides in the section, and their Expected Goals Against (xGA) of 0.4 is significantly less than Senegal (1.6), Qatar (1.9) and the Netherlands (2.6). Indeed, Tuesday’s encounter in Doha will not be straightforward for the African champions at both ends of the pitch.

If Mendy’s gaffes lost the game against the Netherlands, he should be credited with aiding the African champions’ success against the hosts last time out.

Now he needs to pull off another top performance as the Lions of Teranga seek to exorcise the demons of 2018 and make it to the Round of 16 after a 20-year wait.