Senegal have grown in Sadio Mane’s absence, says Gareth Southgate as England expect tough World Cup tie

England manager Gareth Southgate believes the absence of Sadio Mane has unified Senegal and made them strong.

Mane had been due to lead the line for Senegal at this World Cup, but he suffered a knee injury while playing for Bayern Munich on the eve of the tournament.

Senegal had been expected to struggle without Mane, who starred as they won the Africa Cup of Nations in January, but they have made it to the last-16 of the World Cup and will face England on Sunday.

“Sadio is obviously an incredible player, and every team would want to have him,” said Southgate.

“But what we’ve seen from the team of Senegal, they’ve become very strong in his absence. And they have shown great spirit through losing him.

“So we know it doesn’t make a difference to the level of the fixture for tomorrow. We’ve got to be prepared for the game, and we’ve got to be at or very best to be able to win the game.

“We’ve been very impressed [with Senegal]. We know that they’re African champions, very proud, great competitive spirit, a lot of belief in the team. With some excellent individual players who cause problems, with a good structure to the team as well. [Head coach] Aliou [Cisse] has done a fantastic job.

“They were very unlucky not to qualify from the group in Russia 2018, and they’ve deservedly done it this time. So we know exactly the size of the task ahead of us.”

The Senegal squad for this World Cup has 10 players playing in England and Southgate believes they have “enriched” the English game.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“We’ve had a number of Senegalese players down the years, from Patrick Vieira to El Hadji Diouf, and the coach,” he said.

“Now, the players who are playing in England now, both in the Premier League, and some guys who are in the Championship but who are really Premier League players.

“They’ve definitely enriched our game. As have players from all around the world, we’re very fortunate that our league is so strong and it encourages the best players in the world to come and play.”

Senegal have been one of the best-supported nations at this World Cup and are expected to get huge backing on Sunday.

FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | Best Images and Moments

Japan’s Kaoru Mitoma appears to have the ball over the line before crossing it for a goal during the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar (AP)
Japan’s Kaoru Mitoma appears to have the ball over the line before crossing it for a goal during the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Spain, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar (AP)
Germany players stand dejected at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E campaign and match v Costa Rica (AFP via Getty Images)
Germany players stand dejected at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E campaign and match v Costa Rica (AFP via Getty Images)
England’s Marcus Rashford scores their first goal from a free kick past Wales’ Danny (REUTERS)
England’s Marcus Rashford scores their first goal from a free kick past Wales’ Danny (REUTERS)
A pitch invader runs across the field with a rainbow flag during the World Cup group H match between Portugal and Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail (AP)
A pitch invader runs across the field with a rainbow flag during the World Cup group H match between Portugal and Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail (AP)
Ismaila Sarr of Senegal celebrates after their sides victory during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Ecuador and Senegal at Khalifa International Stadium (Getty Images)
Ismaila Sarr of Senegal celebrates after their sides victory during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Ecuador and Senegal at Khalifa International Stadium (Getty Images)
USA’s forward #10 Christian Pulisic scores his team’s first goal past Iran’s goalkeeper #01 Alireza Beiranvand during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and USA at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha (AFP via Getty Images)
USA’s forward #10 Christian Pulisic scores his team’s first goal past Iran’s goalkeeper #01 Alireza Beiranvand during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Iran and USA at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha (AFP via Getty Images)
Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar, left, scores the second goal past Serbia’s goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic during the World Cup group G soccer match between Cameroon and Serbia, at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar (AP)
Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar, left, scores the second goal past Serbia’s goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic during the World Cup group G soccer match between Cameroon and Serbia, at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar (AP)
Brazil’s midfielder #05 Casemiro celebrates with teammates after he scored his team’s first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G match v Switzerland at Stadium 974 in Doha (AFP via Getty Images)
Brazil’s midfielder #05 Casemiro celebrates with teammates after he scored his team’s first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G match v Switzerland at Stadium 974 in Doha (AFP via Getty Images)
England’s Harry Kane reacts after missing a chance to score v USA (REUTERS)
England’s Harry Kane reacts after missing a chance to score v USA (REUTERS)
France’s Kylian Mbappe scores their second goal v Denmark (REUTERS)
France’s Kylian Mbappe scores their second goal v Denmark (REUTERS)
Fans from Japan wait for the start of the World Cup group E soccer match v Germany at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, (AP)
Fans from Japan wait for the start of the World Cup group E soccer match v Germany at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, (AP)

“We understand there’s going to be a lot of support for Senegal, not only at home but in many of the African nations,” said Southgate.

“Of course we will be considered favourites, Senegal the underdogs, but that doesn’t really mean anything on a one-off game. It doesn’t mean there is no pressure on Senegal because every national team has huge pressure from their own nation, and external as well. I’m sure everybody understands that and knows thats the case”