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Part of the appeal of the World Cup is seeing the planet’s best soccer players facing off in one tournament. One of those marquee names was supposed to be Sadio Mane. The forward may be getting a bit less airtime, at least in the United States, after leaving Liverpool, but he’s still one of the most dynamic talents around. He makes Senegal appointment viewing on his own.

Unfortunately for the African nation and neutral fans everywhere, there’s been a change of plans. Mane, despite being named to the squad, won’t take part in Senegal’s World Cup campaign.

What gives? And how does that affect Senegal’s chances in Qatar? Let’s break it down.

Sadio Mane will miss the World Cup after having surgery

One of the biggest challenges of this winter World Cup is its proximity to the club season. Under normal circumstances, players will have a few weeks to shake off any knocks ahead of the tournament. This year, though, there was little more than a week between domestic fixtures and the opening match in Qatar.

Sadio Mane, unfortunately, fell victim to that reality. During Bayer Munich’s second-to-last match before the break, the forward went down with an injury. While there was hope that he had only tweaked something — Senegal still named him to the World Cup squad — the injury proved to be too serious.

“Sadio Mané underwent successful surgery in Innsbruck by Prof. Christian Fink and Dr. Andy Williams from London on Thursday evening,” Bayern Munich explained in a November 17 statement. “During the operation, a tendon was reattached to the head of his right fibula. The FC Bayern forward will therefore no longer be available to play for Senegal at the World Cup and will begin his rehab in Munich in the next few days. Africa’s Player of the Year suffered the injury during the German record champions’ 6-1 win over Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga on 8 November.”

What does Mane’s absence mean for Senegal’s World Cup chances?


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Under ideal circumstances, a competition like the World Cup would be best against best. Injuries, unfortunately, are part of the game, and that reality will affect Senegal’s chances.

Mane is the nation’s biggest attacking threat, and directly replacing him is virtually impossible. That’s confirmed by the fact that Moussa N’Diaye, a defender, has been called up to replace the Munich man. It’s almost as if manager Aliou Cissé is admitting that there’s no one who can pick up the slack.

Now, the Lions of Teranga only have six attackers in their squad. If we look at some of their previous matches, Mane has played as something of a number 10, with Krepin Diatta and Ismaila Sarr wide and Boulaye Dia up top. Perhaps that front three remains together, with Cissé dropping an extra man — maybe Pape Matar Sarr — into the midfield for more stability. That might seem like an admission of weakness, but when you consider the group dynamics, it could make sense.

Within Group A, Senegal seems to safely be the second-best team behind the Netherlands. Qatar didn’t look like a threat against Ecuador in the opening match, and despite winning 2-0, La Tri didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Through that lens, playing things a bit safe and avoiding defeat — at least in their meeting with the Dutch — might be Senegal’s best route forward. Pushing beyond that, though, won’t be easy. Finishing second in Group A would set up a likely date with England in the Round of 16, with things only getting more and more challenging as the Lions of Teranga (hypothetically) advance through the bracket.

Going without Sadio Mane will certainly be a challenge for Senegal. No one, however, ever said making noise at the World Cup will be easy.