For Senegal, No Mane. No Problem

A few weeks before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the Teranga Lions of Senegal suffered a setback. Their star player and captain Sadio Mane was ruled out of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup after an injury. The African Player of the Year sustained the injury during Bayern Munich’s 6-1 win against Wolfsburg in which he was substituted after just 20 minutes in the game. 

Despite this setback, Senegal has cruised to the last 16 of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, defeating Qatar and Ecuador to occupy second place in Group A. This Senegalese team has become the first Senegalese team to pass the World Cup group stage since 2002, and they are also the first African team to defeat a South American team at the World Cup since 1990. 

Sadio Mane was replaced in the team by Moussa Ndiaye, a center-back who plays for Anderlecht. Mane’s absence, though a loss for the team, has given way to the rise of new talents, most notably Illiman Ndiaye. Ndiaye who plays in the English championship for Sheffield United made his international debut for Senegal in the game against Qatar, providing an assist for Senegal’s third goal.

In addition to 30 goals in 93 games and leading Senegal to their first-ever AFCON title in January 2022, Sadio Mane has consistently performed for the Teranga Lions and has earned his place among Senegal’s greatest. News of his injury filtered through the Senegalese airwaves with a particular drear that led to fellow compatriots lowering their expectations of Senegal’s performance at the World Cup. 

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In response to the news of Mane’s injury, Senegalese president, Macky Sall sent a personal message to the Bayern Munich forward, “Sadio, I wish you a speedy recovery from your injury in the Bayern-Werder Bremen game. As I told you: Sadio, Lionheart! With all my heart with you! God bless you!” 

Aliou Cisse, the coach of the Senegalese national team also expressed his thoughts about the absence of Sadio Mane at the World Cup. He said about Mane during the pre-match press conference before the game against the Netherlands, “The whole football family is saddened by what has happened because he was the second-best player in the world and he represents the African continent as well as representing Senegal.”

Despite Mane’s importance to the Senegalese team, it is safe to say that the Senegalese have been able to manage, and thrive even without their talisman. With Kalidou Koulibaly taking up the captain’s armband, and Ismaila Sarr playing from the left flank which is Mane’s preferred position, the team has shown considerable resolve and character in this World Cup. 

Senegal’s round-of-16 game comes up against England on Sunday, the 4th of December and this is the Teranga Lions’ toughest challenge yet. It remains to be seen if their resolve is strong enough to match up with that of the Senegalese team at the 2002 World Cup when Senegal reached the quarter-final. 

The real Sadio Mane test will now take place against England. Does Senegal have a chance against England without Mane? England were runners-up at last year’s Euros, a semi-finalist at the last World Cup, and have come into the competition as one of the favorites to win. Sadio Mane has proven to be a big game player for his national team. During the qualifiers for the World Cup, Sadio Mane scored the winning penalty against Mo Salah’s Egypt. He also scored the winning spot kick that crowned Senegal as African champions. 

Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup has been a fiesta filled with surprises and footballing drama. Maybe the drama will continue with Senegal pulling off a surprise against England on Sunday. Whichever way, the Senegalese has proven no Mane. no problem. 

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