Senegal needs vintage Sadio Mane to shatter African World Cup barrier

Published on: 03 November 2022

When Bayern Munich signed Sadio Mane in June, the 32-time German champions knew they were getting a leader and a winner at both domestic and international levels.

In addition to Premier League and Champions League triumphs with Liverpool, Mane led Senegal to the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations title, scoring the winning penalty in the shootout to help the Lions of Teranga secure their first major silverware.

That they did it against his then-Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah's Egypt – the most successful team in the history of the tournament – must have made the victory sweeter.

The win saw Mane pick up his second consecutive African Player of the Year trophy and contributed to his second-place finish in this year's Ballon d'Or.

Mane also played a crucial role in carrying his team to the World Cup, converting the decisive penalty in the shootout – again against Egypt – just a month after the AFCON triumph.

Main man Mane

When Mane swaps the red of Bayern for Senegal green in Qatar, the focus of his side – and around 18 million Senegalese – will again turn to him.

Switching from Bayern to Senegal is a major adjustment for the 30-year-old.

While in Senegal, Mane is unquestionably the main man up front and the team's biggest name, at Bayern, he is one of several attacking stars, including Germans Jamal Musiala, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Mueller, Leroy Sane and Cameroonian striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

While Mane has at times struggled with his confidence at the club level since making the switch to the Bundesliga – he has been benched a handful of times this season by Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann due to a lack of confidence – he will spearhead Senegal.

In late October, after scoring once and assisting twice in a 6-2 win over Mainz, Mane said he would play any role necessary to help the team.

"I've played left wing my whole life," Mane told German television. "(But) if the team needs me as a striker or a right winger, I'll be there."

Despite his domestic and international success, Mane said he was still trying to get better as a player.

"I'm someone who wants to learn every day. I think I can still improve a lot. Offensively and defensively.

"I can still do more."

Bringing Bayern to Qatar

Bayern has won the past 10 Bundesliga titles and Senegal fans will hope Mane brings Bayern's winning culture with him to Qatar as his side looks to break a cycle of underachievement at the international level for African sides.

Despite providing some of the most talented players in football, no African team has ever reached the tournament's semifinals.

Only three nations – Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) – have reached the last eight before.

Senegal looks well placed to break that record, particularly considering their World Cup group includes the unpredictable Netherlands alongside Ecuador and hosts Qatar.

Mane, however, is making sure his side does not get ahead of themselves, saying in October Senegal was well behind the world's best footballing nations.

"I don't see Senegal as a favorite because there are other nations very far ahead of Senegal like France, Spain," Mane said.

"We will go there ... and try to do what we are used to doing.

"Argentina, Brazil, Germany, France, England, I think there are few teams that can win the World Cup."

Senegal opens their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Nov. 21.