The African team face Japan in their second Group H game this afternoon in Yekaterinburg, and a defensive mainstay of the Japanese team is Maya Yoshida, with whom Mane once played for Southampton in the Premier League.
“I know him very well because we played together in Southampton,” Mane, now at Liverpool, said through an interpreter yesterday. “We were always together. We were training in the gym together, we were chatting every day. We have an excellent relationship.”
But that changed at the World Cup in Russia.
When Mane asked his former team-mate if he wanted to meet with him in Russia, the answer from Yoshida was clear: “‘No, no I don’t want to meet you.”
“That’s fine, he’s a good guy,” said Mane, who smiled throughout the news conference.
Yoshida surely remembers what Mane is capable of, especially the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history Mane scored in 2015 when he got three goals in a 176-second span for Southampton.
“I appreciate he’s very professional,” Mane said about Yoshida. “I know he’s doing everything he can to beat me, but I also will do the same on my side.”
Japan enjoyed a surprise 2-1 victory over Colombia in their opening match and go into today’s fixture full of confidence. But their manager, Akira Nishino, knows they’ll have to concentrate if they’re to stop Mane running the show.
“It may not be one-on-one,” Nishino said when asked how he plans to stop the Liverpool striker. “It may be three-on-one. “Senegal has some superstars but as a team we’re going to cope with them.”