Virgil van Dijk of the Netherlands expressed disappointment that former Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane would miss the World Cup due to injury, even though it will bolster Dutch chances.
The defender was supposed to face Mané in the Netherlands‘ first Group A match against Senegal on Monday, but the Bayern Munich attacker is out of the tournament after sustaining a leg injury while playing for his club.
“I called him the next day and obviously I wanted to know how he was,” Van Dijk said at his team’s pre-match press conference in Doha.
“There were so many rumours coming out. As a friend I wanted to know how he was. It wasn’t the best news he has had and unfortunately he won’t be able to make this tournament.”
Before reuniting at Anfield, Van Dijk and Mane were teammates at Southampton. They shared a Premier League and Champions League victory with Jurgen Klopp.
“I feel sad for him,” Van Dijk added. “I know how hard he worked for this and he has been important for Senegal so he is going to be a big miss for them.
“But hopefully we can benefit a little from that as well.”
After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Netherlands will play in their first World Cup match ever on Monday at the Al Thumama Stadium in the capital of Qatar.
The return of Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, who led the squad to third place in 2014, highlighted the disadvantage Memphis Depay’s absence for his team.
The 28-year-old Barcelona forward has featured just once since September despite having 42 goals in 81 games for his nation, including 12 in the World Cup qualifying for Qatar.
“This is the match that sets the tone for the rest of the tournament and Senegal are the African champions so they are not just any old opponent,” said Van Gaal.
“I think that Mane is an extraordinary player. I wanted him at Manchester United, when he was still at Southampton, so I am a fan of Mane.
“He can break open a match and I would say that Senegal will really miss him, but the same applies to us. We will really miss our top scorer.”