By Amaechi Agbo
The Senegalese national football team have arrived in Qatar without their star player Sadio Mane ahead of the 2022 World Cup. The team arrived in the early hours of Monday in Doha after converging first in Paris.
Senegal head coach Aliou Cisse had named his 26-man squad for the Qatar World Cup last Friday, with Mane selected despite recently suffering a leg injury.
Initial reports suggested Mane would miss the World Cup, but Cisse believes the 30-year-old merits a place in the squad even if he is unlikely to be available for Senegal’s first game in Group A, against Netherlands.
About 90 percent of the 26-member squad are presently in camp with the likes of Nampalys Mendy, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ismaila Sarr and Iliman Ndiaye all spotted.
This World Cup will be the third that the Teranga Lions have qualified for, and their first as reigning African champions. The African champions will open their World Cup account on Monday, November 21 when they take on Netherlands. Other members of their group A are host country Qatar and Ecuador.
Only three teams from Africa have reached the last-eight at a World Cup, but Senegal reached that milestone in their first-ever appearance in 2002.
Sadio Mané was included in Senegal’s World Cup squad on Friday as coach Aliou Cissé gambled on one of the world’s best forwards being fit and ready in time after injuring his lower right leg this week playing for Bayern Munich.
Cissé said Senegal’s medical team hoped that Mané would need about a week to recover from the injury he sustained on Tuesday in a league game in Germany and therefore be ready for Senegal’s opening game at the World Cup against the Netherlands on Nov. 21 — on paper the strongest team Senegal will face in Group A in Qatar.
But Cissé also raised the possibility that Mané may not be fit in time for the tournament, which would dash the hopes of a nation that has come to rely on Mané delivering at big moments.
“Sadio Mané is a key player in our group. We will do all we can to have Sadio Mané (available),” Cissé said at the Senegal squad announcement in Dakar which was dominated by whether Mané would be in or out.
“Losing Sadio Mané is not something small for Senegal and African football. We have to anticipate in case he is absent, but we still have time to see if he will be fit or not,” Cissé said. “I cannot speak of his absence even if in my head I have to take this into account.”
Cissé said Senegal had sent its team doctor to Munich to examine Mané’s injury and the “good news” was that he did not require surgery. The initial diagnosis was that Mané would be out for around a week, Cissé said.
Bayern has already said that Mané will miss this weekend’s game against Schalke in the Bundesliga because of the injury but gave no definitive time frame for his recovery.
Mané is the focus of a Senegal team which won its first African Cup of Nations title this year and is rated by many as the best African side to ever go to a World Cup.
It has realistic hopes of making the quarterfinals and may be Africa’s best chance yet of having a team reach the last four at a World Cup for the first time.
The 30-year-old has been vital for Senegal, scoring the penalty that won the African Cup title in a shootout against Egypt in February.
A month later, he also netted the winning penalty in another shootout that clinched Senegal a place at the World Cup in Qatar in a playoff, again beating Egypt. He recently became his country’s all-time leading scorer and finished second in this year’s Ballon d’Or behind Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema.
The rest of the squad was as expected, with Cissé keeping faith with the heart of the team that won the African Cup in Cameroon for Senegal’s first major title.
Senegal will play host Qatar, the Netherlands and Ecuador in Group A and Cissé said his squad would continue to prepare as they had planned, despite the situation with Mané.
“For the moment, there is no question of changing anything,” Cissé said.
World Cup rules allow teams to replace an injured player up to a day before the team’s opening game, meaning Senegal still has the option of bringing in another player later on if Mané doesn’t recover in time. That would still be a major blow for Senegalese hopes and the World Cup itself.