YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 24, 2018: Senegal's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring in a 2018 FIFA World Cup Group H match against Japan at Yekaterinburg Arena. Sergei Bobylev/TASS

Sadio Mane leads Senegal to first win of Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers

Sadio Mane laid on the second goal as Senegal surged to a 2-0 victory over Congo on Wednesday, as they began their Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Senegal’s push to reach a second consecutive AFCON final began in midweek, as they hosted Congo in the first qualifier for the 2021 tournament.

Mane, who was the first of Liverpool’s internationals in action during the November break, started in attack as Aliou Cisse presided over an altered setup from the 1-0 loss to Algeria in July.

Kalidou Koulibaly wore the captain’s armband, having inherited it from Cheikhou Kouyate, and Metz striker Habib Diallo started ahead of Mbaye Niang up front.

The Lions of Teranga dominated, with 62 percent of possession and six shots on goal to Congo’s four, with two of their efforts finding the back of the net.

Sidy Sarr opened the scoring in the 26th minute, and two minutes later Diallo clinched the result for 2-0, heading home from Mane’s cross from the left.

Mane played 84 minutes, replaced by Niang in the closing stages, and applauded the Senegal supporters after the game to mark a positive start to the campaign:

Next up is a trip to Eswatini on Sunday, with Senegal’s upcoming opponents losing 3-0 to Guinea-Bissau earlier on Wednesday.

It is likely Mane will start again at the Mavuso Sports Centre, with his importance to Cisse’s side undeniable as one of the best players in world football.

Liverpool should see it as a positive that his international duty ends so early, with Mane then able to return to Melwood with plenty of time to prepare for the away clash with Crystal Palace next Saturday.