African champions Senegal paid the ultimate price did their shocking timidity when a ten-minute spell of madness saw them lose 0-2 to Group A favourites Netherlands in a game that was there for the taking.
The Teranga Lions were robbed of their most prized asset Sadio Mane in the buildup to the tournament and that development seemed to in some way rub off on their character against a team that soon got wary of them on the pitch.
In what was ironical to the trait of Lions and what the West Africans are really not known for, the Senegalese passed up inviting opportunities to aim at the Europeans’ jugular and when they seemed absolutely contented with a 0-0 scoreline, their timidity bit back in excruciating fashion.
To start with, head coach Aliou Cisse went for a 433 formation which had Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye as the most advanced midfielder. That was a red flag for me, for a player who has only 29 goals/assists in his last 352 games.
With a relatively timid Boulaye Dia starting at centre forward and the overzealous Krepin Diatta making the wrong decisions, Senegal’s attacking plan was always going to be incoherent from the get go, how badly can a team miss their Golden Boy?
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The first half of the game produced plenty of motion without movement in that sense but during that period, the Netherlands made a couple of mistakes that naturally should be punished at the highest level of football; the Senegalese Lions failed to plug in their poisonous teeth.
The only shot on target in the first half was taken by the adventurous Youssouf Sabaly. Perhaps Senegal’s first half showing was enough to further scare The Oranje as they grew toothless into the second half. Still, Senegal failed to take it.
By the time midfield enforcer Cheikhou Kouyate succumbed to an awkward looking injury shortly after Abdou Diallo’s exit, Senegal looked already decimated in strength.
It all culminated in a horror show from midfield – failure of freshly introduced players to close down Frenkie De Jong -, to defence – ball watching and lack of awareness – and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy – another completely abrasive and suicidal decision by the Chelsea man.
With the concession of a second goal in stoppage time, Senegal must now not only attempt to win their next two games, they must do so while trying to erase their deficit especially in the next game against Qatar and may have to go into that in the absence of Kouyate whom alongside Nampalys Mendy were some of their brightest spots on Monday night.
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