Qatar play Ecuador in the tournament opener, but tournament formalities aside, the Senegal vs Netherlands game will be the one to watch. it is also likely to decide the World Cup Group A qualifying posiitons.
Senegal vs Netherlands World Cup Group A qualifying match
Al Thumama Stadium, Qatar 2022
Monday 21 November, 05.00 US EST, 10.00 GMT UK, 13.00 local time
The Netherlands, after a lacklustre run on the international stage in recent years, undoubtedly will come to Qatar looking to perform. Traditionally one of the powerhouses of European soccer, the Dutch failed to qualify for the tournament in 2018, and in Euro 2020 went out in the Round of 16 after a 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic.
They will be hoping things are different under Louis van Gaal who took over again in 2021 (after stints on the job in 2000-2002 and 2012-2014).
Louis van Gaal – Capping an Illustrious Career
If any further motivation is needed, it might lie with a desire to deliver for van Gaal – one of the Netherlands’ biggest names in world football.
His club coaching record includes stints at Ajax (where he delivered a UEFA Cup and a UEFA Champions League title); Barcelona (two La Liga titles), Bayern Munich (a Bundesliga title and a UCL final loss to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan); and Manchester United (an FA Cup).
His best performance at the helm of the national team came in 2014, in Brazil, where the Netherlands lost to Argentina on penalties in the semi-finals. They beat the hosts 3-0 in the playoff to secure third, while Germany went on to lift the cup after a 1-0 win over Argentina.
Van Gaal revealed earlier this year that he is fighting prostate cancer and will be stepping down from the job after the tournament. A good run by the Dutch has the potential to become a real Qatar 2022 feel-good story.
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Will the Lions Roar?
Senegal come roaring into the tournament as first-time winners of the African Cup of Nations.
Be assured they will want this win and the opportunity to top Group A just as much. With both teams expected to qualify from Group A, this opener is likely to decide the top spot, and could make the difference between facing England or the USA in the first knock-out stage.
This is the Lions of Teranga’s third appearance on the main stage, after 2002 and 2018, and follows an eventful qualifying campaign that saw them lift the Africa Cup of Nations with a penalties win over Egypt – scarred buy some rather less than sporting behaviour by Senegalese fans.
Senegal’s best showing at a World Cup came in 2002, losing 1-0 to Turkey after extra time in the quarter-final, after beating Sweden 2-1, also after extra time, in the Round of 16. This campaign included a 1-0 group match win over the then defending champions, France.
The takeaway? On their day, Senegal have proven match winners in the past. How far can they go this year?
Interesting fact: In Russia in 2018, FIFA used the “fair play” rules for the first time to separate two tied teams at the group stage. Japan, with -4 points versus Senegal’s -6 points, progressed in the tournament.
Players to watch – Senegal
Former Liverpool star and already off to a great start at his new home in Bayern Munich is Sadio Mane, probably the best know Senegalese footballer of the moment. He was Player of the Tournament in the Africa Cup of Nations and will lead his country’s charge up front.
At the other end of the pitch, between the posts, is Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy, voted the FIFA Best Goalkeeper in 2021 and best keeper in the Africa Cup of Nations. French-born Bayern Munich’s Bouna Sarr can play either at right back or higher on the wing.
Look out also for Cheikhou Kouyate (Crystal Palace) in the midfield and striker Ismaila Sarr (Watford).
Players to watch – Netherlands
Captain, and Mane’s former Liverpool teammate, Virgil van Dijk will command his team from centre back. Outside him is Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt, though the Dutch are not short of defensive talent.
Expect Frenkie de Jong to marshall midfield, connecting with Barcelona (maybe Man Utd?) teammate Memphis Depay up high, with Tottenham’s Steven Bergwijn on the left wing.
Head-to-head: Senegal vs Netherlands
The two nations have never faced off at the senior level, even in friendlies. However, back in 2019 they did meet in the U17 World Cup, when Senegal came out on top, 3-1 winners.
Pape Matar Sarr scored a brace that day, and is now in the senior squad. He plays his football at Ligue 1 side Metz, on loan from Tottenham.
How to watch Senegal vs Netherlands World Cup Group A
In the US, on Fox Sports/FS1 at 05.00 (English); Telemundo (Spanish)
Fox Sports holds English-language rights, and will air all 64 matches live across the Fox and FS1 channels. All games will also stream live on the Fox Sports app.
NBCUniversal’s Telemundo holds Spanish-language rights in the US.
In the UK, on ITV at 10.00.
In the UK, the BBC and ITV share coverage rights, between them showing all matches. Here is the whole schedule for both channels – who is showing what, when.