Current AFCON winners The Lions of Teranga seek a landmark victory against the mighty Oranje as both teams face off for the first time in history.
By Aboubacar Kamagate
2022 has been an historical year for the Senegalese national team as they won their first ever AFCON in January then later beat Egypt in March on penalties to qualify for the 2022 world cup. The Netherlands endured a successful world cup qualifying campaign as they topped off their group securing qualification and then becoming Nation league finalist for the second time in three years. Both the Senegal and Netherlands will enter the world cup on impressive form having maintained an unbeaten streak in their last 8 matches in all competitions.
The opening group stage match for both countries will take place on Monday 21st November at 4pm GMT at the recently built 40,000 capacity Al Thumama stadium which finished construction last year October. The last time Louis Van Gaal’s side played in a world cup was all the way back in 2014 when they went on to display an impressive run after reaching the semi-finals and narrowly losing on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes against a vicious Argentinian side. Whereas unlike the Netherlands, Aliou Cisse’s side were present at the last world cup in 2018 but did not manage to get out of a tough group alongside Japan, Colombia and Poland as the team sank to a 3rd place finish within their group.
The first meeting between these two nations is arguably one of the most intriguing matches in the first round of the group stage as the Netherlands are ranked 10th in the FIFA world ranking just 10 places above Senegal. The Oranje men have never been defeated by an African nation at a world cup (winning 3 and drawing 1), whereas Senegal also have never lost to a European nation at a world cup (winning 2 and drawing 1). Both nations have a bought a strong combined squad of players who mostly play within Europe’s top five leagues.
The Lions of Teranga men only have one notable player missing from their 26-man squad and the biggest name of all in their star talisman Sadio Mane who is Senegal’s most capped player of all time with 93 appearances and 34 goals. Mane was ruled out of the world cup after sustaining a leg injury in a Bundesliga match against Werder Bremen a week before the national team was set to fly out to Qatar. This is a huge lost for Senegal as Mane has been in fantastic form for German Champions Bayern Munich picking up 14 Goals and assist in just 23 matches so far this season. However, the Senegal are in no means short of options for Mane’s place on the left flank as Villarreal’s Nicolas Jackson, Nottingham forests Iliman Ndiaye, AS Monaco’s Kreptin Diatta and Marseille’s Bamba Dieng will all be fighting for a starting spot against the Netherlands. RB Leipzig’s Abou Diallo could also set to be ruled out of the opening game with a knee injury. Nevertheless, Senegal’s players to watch out for who will be Goalkeeper Edourd Mendy of Chelsea, Central defender Kalidou Koulibaly of Chelsea and right midfielder Ismaïla Sarr of Watford.
The Senegal outfitters predicted line-up ahead of the game
The Dutch outfitters predicted line-up ahead of the game
The Oranje men who are unbeaten in their last 8 opening matches at a world cup (winning 6 and drawing 2) have a very strong squad at their disposal with a mixture of experience and bubbling young talent. The most notable player not to be selected for the final 26-man squad is Roma midfielder maestro Georgino Wijnaldum who was ruled out with a leg fracture and Donny Van de Beek due to a poor run of form at his club level as he is yet to feature for Man United this season both replaced by youngsters Xavi Simons of PSV and Kenneth Taylor of Ajax. Whilst star striker Memphis Depay is in the squad, he will be ruled out for the opening game at least due to hamstring injury he sustained back in September is yet to play a game for club or country this season. However, his goal scoring record will be needed if Netherlands wish to progress into the latter stages of the tournament as his 12 goals during the world cup qualification won him joint top scorer alongside England powerhouse Harry Kane. Vincent Janssen or Luuk de Jong will look to be the likely frontrunners to fill Depay’s boots. Denzel Dumfries looks to also be doubtful as he was forced off against Inter Milan’s fixture against Atalanta last week, alongside Serie A counterpart Martin De Roon who suffered having missed that match entirely with a back issue. Most likely Bayern Leverkusen wonderkid Jeremie Frimpong will fill Dumfries boots at right wing back and De Roon’s teammate playmaker Teun Koopmeiners will partner up with Frankie De Jong in the Middle. Players to watch out for this match will be captain central defender Virgil Van Dijk of Liverpool and PSV forward Cody Gakpo.
I predict a 3-1 victory for the mighty Oranje who will look to continue their impressive form into the world cup. The few regular starters who will be missing this opening game are set to be replaced by quality players, a compliment on Hollands bold squad depth. A world class centre back trio of Van Dijk, Ake and De Ligt which only few nations can dream of combining will prove difficult for Senegal to break down. Adding to the fact wonderkid Cody Gakpo is having an incredible start to the season in the Eredivisie winning back-to-back player of month awards will look to pick up where he left and cause mayhem for Koulibaly who is struggling for form at Chelsea having conceded 9 goals in his last 5 matches keeping 0 clean sheets. However, the weakest part of their team is the Goalkeeper position as 38-year-old Ajax keeper Pasveer will be looking to feature in his first tournament for the nation having only made his national team debut only in September. I believe Senegal do not have the same quality to dispose the form of the Dutch team especially in terms of squad depth. Missing a key player like Mane obviously leaves a massive void in the squad and a monumental task to find a player with his similar qualities as a replacement.