· Kara Mbodji is fit again after a five-month injury layoff
· Senegal coach Aliou Cisse has selected him in World Cup squad
· Defender discusses his return to action and ambitions at Russia 2018
Injury news is a feature of the lead-up to every FIFA World Cup™. In the countdown to Russia 2018, Brazil's Dani Alves, France's Laurent Koscielny and England's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been the topic of conversation, with all three missing out on the competition after suffering untimely setbacks.One side who have had no such problems are Senegal, who will have all their big names on duty in Russia, including central defender Kara Mbodji. His recovery from a serious knee injury has come just in time, much to the relief of national team coach Aliou Cisse.
"It's been a long absence - five whole months," the Anderlecht defender told FIFA.com. "It's not been easy for me but I'm happy to be back on the field of play. I have to work hard now to be ready for the World Cup."
A target to beat
Making only their second finals appearance, the Lions of Teranga are hoping to do even better than their predecessors did in their maiden global finals, at Korea/Japan 2002, when a side captained by Cisse beat the then reigning world and European champions France en route to the quarter-finals.
"It's only natural that we want to go further than the generation of 2002," said Mbodji, making Senegal's intentions at Russia 2018 clear. "We have to rise to the occasion at the World Cup. We need to get past the group phase and then go as far as we can. It would be fantastic for us and the people of Senegal if we did better than in 2002."
Too close to call
Senegal have been drawn in Group H, which Mbodji sees as being very open: "Anyone could qualify. Senegal aren't favourites against Poland and Colombia, but anything's possible. We'll just have to wait and see what happens in Russia."
As the Anderlecht man confirmed, the Lions of Teranga will be banking on the know-how of their coach in their bid to progress to the knockout rounds: "He has a lot of experience and that really helps us. Aside from the 2002 World Cup, he's played in lots of Africa Cup of Nations competitions and we're lucky to have a coach like him. God willing, we'll achieve our objectives."
Togetherness and team spirit are two strengths of this Senegal team. Proof of that came when Liverpool star Sadio Mane offered to pay for Mbodji's injury treatment. Reflecting on that gesture, the defender said: "Sadio isn't just a friend to me; he's a brother too. And I admire him as a player.
"He's been right by my side this whole time I've been injured and he's given me a lot of moral support. I'm delighted he's in the Champions League final. It's an honour for all the people of Senegal. And he's not the only player from the national team who's supported me during this tough time."