The Netherlands, confident in its ability to compete seriously for the 2022 FIFA World Cup title, will face an early test next Monday when it begins its career in Group A against Senegal, the African champions, who are still groaning under the weight of shock due to the loss of the efforts of its distinguished star, Sadio Mane.
The absence of Mane, who was excluded from the national team due to a knee injury, could be a crushing blow to the team’s hopes for an unprecedented African achievement in the tournament, although the team is still considered a strong competitor in the confrontation that will be held at Al Thumama Stadium in the Qatari capital.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said that his team has the ability to reach the final match of the tournament and win its title for the first time, after finishing runners-up three times.
Van Gaal said last week: We do not have the best players in the world in our squad, but I trust the team’s abilities and style, and we have players who are able to implement the coach’s technical plans, and we can reach the final match.
Van Gaal (71 years old) led the Dutch national team to third place in the finals of the tournament in Brazil in 2014, and since he assumed leadership of the coaching staff of the team again last year, he led the team to a 15-match unbeaten run so far.
But Monday’s match will show the team’s ability to fulfill the coach’s expectations and make a positive start, given that the main elements of the team suffered from injuries and a decline in level during the current season.
The level of captain Virgil van Dijk has declined a lot, while the career of Memphis Depay, Barcelona player, has faltered due to his suffering from injuries.
However, these fears remain much less than the shock that Senegal received due to the loss of Mane’s efforts, who was injured in the knee while playing for Bayern Munich, the German champions, on the eighth of November, before he was effectively excluded from the squad last Thursday.
Mane’s absence will be a great psychological shock to the team that Mane led to win the African Nations Championship earlier this year and also led him to qualify for the World Cup finals when he scored the decisive penalty shootout against Egypt in the qualifiers.
Senegal represents Africa’s greatest hope for success in Qatar, after all five teams failed to pass the first round in Russia four years ago.
Senegal is one of only three African countries to have reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Senegal achieved this achievement 20 years ago, and coach Aliou Cisse wants his players to trust their ability to reach this role, or even beyond that, despite Mane’s absence.
And the coach said about it: This is the confidence that I want my players to have. I want them to say to themselves: If France can win, why can’t we?