African nation who could face England in the first knockout phase back on the global stage after painful 16-year wait
Sadio Mane insists he feels no pressure to spearhead Senegal’s hopes — and claims the team’s strong mentality will see them thrive in Russia.
In-form Liverpool ace Mane is expected to be one of Senegal’s top performers at World Cup 2018 following the African nation’s 16-year absence from the game’s greatest stage.
Mane is no stranger to football showpieces after his starring role in the Reds’ run to the Champions League final last month.
He was on target in both semi-final legs against Roma, and also grabbed Liverpool’s goal in the 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid in Kiev.
Despite injuries earlier in the season, Mane finished with 10 Premier League goals and another 10 in the Champions League for good measure.
The attacker continues to impress at international level since making his debut in 2012.
And now fans of the Lions of Teranga are hoping Mane can deliver when it matters most — just like talisman El-Hadji Diouf, who helped Senegal to the quarter-finals in Japan/South Korea 2002.
Mane, who has 14 goals in 51 caps, admits: “Poland, Japan, Colombia – that’s a tough group. But you have to believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing all the time.
“You try to do the job all together and hopefully we will qualify from the group.
“Honestly, personally, I don’t know the word ‘pressure’ because I enjoy my job all the time.
“The main man all the time is the Senegal team, which makes us really good.”
Coach Aliou Cisse, who played in the Premier League for Birmingham and Portsmouth, usually favours a 4-3-3 formation which should suit Mane as Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp employs a similar system.
It saw the 26-year-old help create both goals in the vital away win in South Africa which clinched a ticket to Russia.
Senegal have an impressive, strong spine with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly in defence, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye in midfield and Mane up top.
Their Group H is paired with England’s Group G, setting up a potential first knockout phase showdown.
Cisse is one of the only two native African coaches in Russia, together with Tunisia’s Nabil Maaloul.
He has pledged to help Mane recover from the Champions League final less than three weeks ago to star in the tournament, and said: “We have been setting up special training for him to rest and recover, so that he can have time to breathe.”