By Toby Davis
AL RAYYAN, Qatar (Reuters) – Senegal coach Aliou Cisse has total trust in goalkeeper Edouard Mendy despite his rocky start to the World Cup campaign.
Mendy, who Cisse said had a steely resolve and was a certain starter for their second Group A game against Qatar on Friday, was arguably at fault for both goals in his side’s opening 2-0 loss to the Netherlands.
The defeat has left the African champions with work to do to escape a group that also includes an Ecuadorian side who made light work of hosts Qatar in their opening match.
It also continued a difficult spell for Mendy, who has found himself on the bench for periods at Chelsea this season, with Kepa Arrizabalaga preferred under new manager Graham Potter.
His place in the Senegal side, however, is not under threat, with Cisse confident in his keeper’s mental strength.
“Edouard is doing very well, he has got a steely resolve,” Cisse told reporters on Thursday.
“Edouard’s qualities speak for themselves, I don’t think that anyone is doubting him, sometimes he has highs, sometimes he has lows, he has my full trust, my blind trust, and that of his team mates. Tomorrow he will be on the pitch.”
The game against the Netherlands had appeared to be headed for a draw until the 84th minute when Frenkie de Jong’s cross was curled invitingly into the box. Mendy came to collect but got nowhere near the ball as Cody Gakpo stole in to head home.
Deep into stoppage time, the keeper parried a relatively tame shot into the path of Davy Klaassen, who made no mistake.
Senegal center back Kalidou Koulibaly, who is also Mendy’s team mate at Chelsea, said people were over-reacting about the keeper’s form.
“We play at the same club and we are also brothers in arms for Senegal, Edouard is a very important player for us, it is normal to go through difficult phases – I think we are making a mountain out of a mole hill here,” he said.
Senegal, robbed of their top attacking talent after Sadio Mane was injured in the lead-up to the tournament, were crowned African champions by beating Egypt on penalties in February, while Friday’s opponents Qatar are the Asian champions.
Cisse’s side were knocked out in the group stage four years ago and are unlikely to be better than that if they don’t win on Friday.
“We have our back against the wall but we are Lions, the Lions of Teranga,” said Koulibaly.
“We will give everything to continue with the dream and to let the Senegalese people dream. We don’t want to disappoint the Senegalese population. What is certain is that the behavior and mentality tomorrow will be that of warriors.”
(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Ken Ferris)