Senegal set to roar again?

Coach Aliou Cissé will take a promising Senegal side to their second World Cup next month. No doubt he has regaled them with stories of the first, where he proudly wore the captain’s armband for one of the greatest sporting moments in the country’s history.

On the opening day of the 2002 spectacle in South Korea and Japan, the Lions of Teranga beat defending champions France, shocking the world and sending their own nation into euphoric celebration.

READ MORE: Senegel’s Sall to follow Lions of Teranga to Russia

“That was the most incredible experience ever for Senegalese,” recalls Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a foreign correspondent stationed in Dakar at the time. “Just the fact that they qualified, and then they beat France, a former colonial power. It was such a significant event.”

“There was this absolute outpouring of patriotism. I had my office in the main square, Independence Square in Dakar, and guys with motorbikes and Senegalese flags just went round and round.”

For many, the significance extended far beyond the pitch. Louw-Vaudran remembers a poignant conversation with a photographer in the aftermath of the final whistle.

“I remember standing on the balcony and watching this and then this friend of mine said: ‘Imagine, I can now also become the chief executive of AFP.’ If Senegal can beat France, then he can also become anything in his career. There was this sense of breaking all barriers and reversing their colonial past.”

Everyone packed the streets that day. By all accounts, no one could contain their joy within four walls and the roadway parties ratcheted up. Then-president Abdoulaye Wade left the Presidential Palace on top of an SUV to join the people in celebration. At one point he shouted to the crowd that he had El Hadji Diouf on the phone.

The pandemonium was largely born of being written off by an entire footballing world. Les Bleus after all had won the World Cup on home soil in 1998. No one gave Senegal a shot, except themselves.

Journalist Beauregard Tromp, who was in the working-class neighbourhood of Ngor, remembers the anticipation ahead of the game.

“On the beach older men were teaching younger men how to carve out canoes that they would use to go fishing. Further up the beach you had more than half-dozen football games taking place,” he says.

“A large number of these kids that were playing these games were wearing the shirts of French players of African descent — people like Zinedine Zidane. I would pause every now and again to check out this idyllic scene and repeatedly, unsolicited, people would volunteer to me, ‘We are going to beat France.’ I remember just replying kind of incredulously … without denying them I would just walk on and smile.

“As I was watching the opening game, I recalled this moment. So when Papa Bouba Diop scored the winning goal and Senegal went on to shock the entire world, I for one was not surprised.”

A wry smile crossed the face of David Trezeguet when he hit the post early in the game, probably because he also did not believe it was possible for France to lose.

But it was Diop who netted and no one else. The Lions of Teranga would go on to reach the quarter-finals, at the time the only African team to do so since Cameroon in 1990.

Will Cissé go a step further on his second attempt this June? Without a doubt a nation will be expectant.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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