(Reuters) - Sadio Mane has been a key part of one of Europe’s deadliest strike forces this season but while he was able to rely on his Liverpool team mates to share the goalscoring burden, the Senegal forward carries the weight of a nation’s hopes on his own shoulders at the World Cup.
Mane is Senegal’s creative and attacking linchpin and it is not a role he has found entirely to his liking. After delivering a virtuoso performance in a 2-0 victory over South Africa in November, he revealed the extent of the burden he bears.
“It wasn’t easy for me, there was too much pressure on me but that has become normal,” he said after the away win that sealed qualification.
Mane’s crucial role became increasingly evident throughout the qualifying campaign and there was a collective gasp of anguish, both in West Africa and on Merseyside, when he injured a hamstring in a 2-0 away win over Cape Verde in October.
Being a one-man band is certainly not an issue he faces at Liverpool, where, despite scoring nine Champions League goals this season, he has to some extent been overshadowed by Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.
Asked to switch flanks from right to left to accommodate Salah’s arrival from AS Roma in the close season, Mane made a slow start to the campaign before rediscovering his goalscoring touch.
Yet his goals do not provide a complete measure of his impact, with his intelligent runs from central and wide areas freeing up space from which his attacking partners often benefit.
For Senegal, there will be more requirement on Mane to be the main man and to shoulder the burden of national hopes.
Editing by Peter Rutherford