Van Dijk sympathises with Mane as Senegal attacker ruled out of World Cup opener

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Virgil van Dijk has expressed sympathy for Sadio Mane after his former Liverpool team-mate was ruled out of Senegal's World Cup opener against the Netherlands.

Mane's place at the tournament in Qatar looked to be in doubt when he suffered a fibula injury while representing Bayern Munich, but he was included in the Africa Cup of Nations champions' 26-man squad last week.

On Tuesday, however, Senegalese Football Federation board member Abdoulaye Sow ruled Mane out of the team's "first matches" at the World Cup.

Van Dijk missed the Netherlands' Euro 2020 campaign last year after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury, and sympathises with Mane amid his battle to feature in Qatar.

"I don't think he will play [against the Netherlands]," Van Dijk told reporters. "I was feeling sad for him, first and foremost. I'm not happy in this case as I've been in that situation where I missed the Euros.

"We as players work so hard to get to this stage, and he has been such an important figure in that group for their country.

"I know for a fact that he will put a brave face on it, but it's tough and I feel sorry for him."

With the Netherlands missing out on qualification for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Van Dijk has had to wait until the age of 31 to appear at a major tournament.

However, the defender feels that wait will make his experience in Qatar more special, adding: "I'm really excited about playing against the best players in world football, leading out my country and representing my country in the best way possible.

"For me, it is a boyhood dream. I'm 31 now but it doesn't change the fact that I'm going to enjoy this as much. Maybe it is an even better time for me to go there because of everything that I have experienced and also we have a great group, so I am very excited about it."

As captain of Louis van Gaal's team, Van Dijk will be one of eight European skippers to wear a distinctive heart-adorned armband at the tournament to raise awareness of the OneLove campaign against discrimination.

Qatar's criminalisation of same-sex relationships and failure to address concerns about migrant workers' conditions has led to criticism of their status as World Cup hosts, but while Van Dijk is "open" to pushing for change through football, he believes FIFA should take the lead.

"I'm fully focused on the first game, and I think people higher up really should make a difference," Van Dijk said.

"Obviously when we're there, we have eyes as well. We will see things and always as a group if we feel we can make a change, we will be open to that.

"But we shouldn't be forced to do certain things which maybe you're not comfortable with. We can always try and make an impact on everything that's happening, but I'm a football player.

"I'm a human being and you guys know exactly that I'm not shy about saying exactly what I think, that's definitely the case.

"We'll see what happens, but the first thing is football. I’m not a politician. FIFA is definitely one of the responsible ones it starts with."