Netherlands outlast Mane-less Senegal to win World Cup opener 2-0

Senegal vs Netherlands: The Oranje left it late, but they snatched a 2-0 victory over the reigning African champions in the first competitive fixture of the 2022 World Cup, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Monday.

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Cody Gakpo headed home the long-awaited breakthrough in the 84th minute, at a time when a scoreless draw looked both inevitable and a fair awarding of the points. Davy Klaassen added a second goal in the 8th minute of second-half stoppage time to put Louis van Gaal’s side top of Group A alongside Ecuador (level on 3 points, +2GD and 2 goals scored). Van Gaal, who was re-appointed head coach in August last year, was also the Dutch boss the last time they appeared in the World Cup in 2014.

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Senegal, meanwhile, are level with Qatar in 3rd/4th, but the good news is: They have their most difficult fixture of the group stage out of the way.

[ MORE: Latest Group A standings, schedule, scores ]

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Senegal a Mane short of being a real threat

Strong, defensive midfield that most sides in the world will struggle to break down? Check. Rock-solid backline with a world-class leader at the heart? Check. One or two secondary attacking stars? Also check. World-class attacking superstar to bring it all together and rally around? Ah, finally we come to the issue for Senegal: Sadio Mane singlehandedly elevates these Lions of Teranga from being one of Africa’s best, to one of the best sides in the world capable of knocking off any heavyweight on any day.

Monday’s performance was as solid and strong as could be, but Ismaila Sarr too often found himself without any support as he stretched his legs in the open field. The Netherlands were there for the taking as they battled many of the same issues themselves, with Memphis Depay carrying an injury into the World Cup and unable to start the opener.

In the end, it was a coin flip which way a stray goal (or two) would go in the final few minutes. Fortune favored the Dutch.

Stars of the show

Cody Gakpo: The 23-year-old PSV star was scantly involved for the opening 83 minutes (just 14 passes attempted as the chief creator in midfield), but when the decisive moment required bravery to go up and win the header against an out-rushing goalkeeper, he proved to be the match-winner.

Ismaila Sarr: The Watford star was a constant threat down the left wing on counter-attacks, but as discussed already he could use

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How to watch Senegal vs Netherlands  live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 5am ET, Monday Nov. 21
Stadium: Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Key storylines, players to watch closely

The Netherlands missed out on the 2018 World Cup but it have made a living making deep runs at the tournament, playing for a medal on five occasions in eight tournaments. The three-time runners-up last played in a final at the 2010 tournament, reaching the third-place game and winning in 2014. Louis van Gaal’s both playing for now and blooding talent for the future, bringing 24-year-old goalkeeper Justin Bijlow, as well as under-24 players Matthijs de Ligt, Tyrell Malacia, Xavi Simons, Cody Gakpo, Noa Lang, and Kenneth Taylor.

Senegal’s been fantastic in African competition and really looked set to make a deep run in Qatar but there are a lot of questions for Aliou Cisse’s men as they qualified for consecutive World Cups for the first time in history. Who will step up in place of Mane? Is Ismaila Sarr ready for the increased attention? Can Cheikhou Kouyate and Idrissa Gana Gueye prove too steely a midfield for the Dutch and Group A?

Senegal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 18
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Beat Egypt in CAF playoff
Coach: Aliou Cisse
Key players: Ismaila Sarr, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Kalidou Koulibaly

Netherlands quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 8
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (Won Group G)
Coach: Louis van Gaal
Key players: Virgil van Dijk, Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong

Netherlands outlast Mane-less Senegal to win World Cup opener 2-0 originally appeared on NBCSports.com