Coach Louis van Gaal believes his team has the potential to win the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 as Netherlands prepare to take on African giants Senegal in their opening match at Al Thumama Stadium today.
Van Gaal, with a wealth of experience as a coach, yesterday warned Senegal that he commands a disciplined squad that is ready to impress fans in Qatar.
“I think we could become world champions. There are teams with higher level in my view than my squad. Whether we can become world champions is another thing but we can,” Van Gaal said at a news conference ahead of today’s Group A clash.
“I believe in this squad. In 2014, we came third. We were of lesser quality compared to this team. I expect more from this squad. It depends not only on technical skills and tactical skills, but it also depends on a bit of luck, that you score at the right time and that the others don’t score,” he said.
“This group is higher in skills. They have a wonderful captain to work with in Virgil van Dijk. He’s an excellent captain. I didn’t appoint him as he was already a captain,” Van Gaal said.
Dutch skipper Van Dijk, who was also present at the press conference, yesterday said he called Senegal star Sadio Mane who has been ruled out of the World Cup with an injury.
“Yes, I called him the next morning (after Mane pulled out injured). I wanted to know how he was. There were so many rumours so as a friend I wanted to know how he was feeling,” Van Dijk said yesterday. “Unfortunately he was not well but there was hope he would be before the announcement was made. I am sad for him. He has been so important for Senegal. Obviously he is going to be a big miss for them. Hopefully we can benefit from his absence,” Van Dijk said of his Liverpool teammate Mane.
“I am excited. The last past few days have passed slowly. We can’t wait to get going. Hopefully it will be a great adventure,” he said. “Like I said I am very excited for the first game. We are looking forward to it. We have trained hard,” the 31-year-old added.
Van Gaal said Senegal would miss Mane’s ‘extraordinary’ talent.
“Senegal are the African Cup of Nations champions. They are not just any opponents. Mane is not playing. How is their team going to play without him? That is my question,” Van Gaal said.
“I think Mane is an extraordinarily player. I wanted him when I was at Manchester United. I chased him. He can break open a match. I feel Senegal will miss him,” the 71-year-old Dutchman said.
When asked about his playing XI, Van Gaal said: “I never give up my lineup before a game. I am reasonably confident of my decisions though. Of course you always have question marks (about selection) but the choices remain the same. I also look at my opponents. I analyse them and then I pick my players looking for players who are suited for the best slots. “The fact is this group of players is well connected. The players work in a professional way. And that will always contribute to success. They have to carry out what we want. Not every group wants that. I have been coaching for 30 years. I remove the group that doesn’t listen.”
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse yesterday said his team won’t be overawed when they take on 2010 World Cup runners-up Netherlands today.
“We have a good team consisting of young players who are ready to rise to the occasion. Of course it is not easy to play without Mane who is injured but all of our players are ready for the opening match,” Cisse said at the official pre-match news conference.
“It is an important match, there’s no doubt. We want a good result. We want to start the World Cup on a good note,” he said. “Obviously it’s a great shame for Mane and for the team that he is not here. We have to think about the player safety. All coaches build their team around their best player. That’s what we have done too. I hope he recovers soon. The Dutch are a good side but we need to be true to ourselves. We don’t have to copy other people’s style of play. We are not going to invent a new Senegal style of play. We will stay true to our style.”
When asked whether his team tactics would involve an all-out attack on the Netherlands team, Cisse said: “I think you have to look at all aspects. In football you have different aspects where you need to defend and attack when you can. We have to see how the match will go.”
Cisse was full of praise for Van Gaal.
“Louis Van Gaal is the benchmark for other coaches. Everyone knows about him being a disciplinarian. At the top you have to be disciplined. I am like that also as you have to be disciplined at the top,” Cisse said.
“When you talk about the spirit and morale, of course it (Mane’s absence) affects you. He is our best player and a leader,” Senegal’s Krepin Diatta, 23, said at the press conference yesterday.
“But we are determined to do what we can without him. We are going to have to work harder individually and harder as a team. We still have a very strong mentality, we are comfortable being together and we are strong together.” Cisse added: “This is my fifth major competition with Senegal – three African Cup of Nations and two World Cups. I am the only coach with this kind of experience. We are delighted to be here. We are working as well as we can. There are nerves but we are confident about our chances in this World Cup. We are humble yet confident.”

FACTBOX - Senegal v Netherlands
When: Monday Nov. 21, 1900 local (1600 GMT/1100 ET)
Where: Al Thumama Stadium, Doha
Capacity: 40,000

Key stats:
  • Netherlands are unbeaten in their last 15 matches.
  • The Netherlands’ last defeat was against the Czech Republic in the last 16 at Euro 2020.
  • The Dutch are three times runners-up but failed to qualify for Russia 2018.
  • Senegal are one of three African countries to reach a World Cup quarter-final.
  • Senegal were unbeaten in their last four warm-up matches before the tournament.

Previous meetings: The teams have never previously met at the World Cup.
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