Senegal – The Long Way Back To Glory
At times almost unbeatable and yet at others vulnerable, Senegal have shown both sides of the African football coin -the good and the bad. And only time will tell which will prevail as the team seeks to re-establish itself as a powerhouse in the game.
Senegal s greatest moment camewhen midfielder Papa Bouba Diop slotted the ball past French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez for the only goal of the opening match of the 2002 FIFA World Cup’” in Seoul. That goal confirmed Senegal as the leading team on the African continent, a team full of flair, pace and determination that was capable of holding its own against any in the world, and they subsequently went on to reach the quarter-final. In doing so they became only the second African team to do so after Cameroon in 1990.
In order to understand the phenomenon that Senegal became in 2002, it is necessary to look further back to the era of the late eighties when a generation of Senegalese players led by their powerful but wayward striker, Jules Bocande, began to make an impression on the African scene.
At the 1986 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) in Egypt, the Senegalese performed well but narrowly failed to get to the semi-final on goal difference, losing out to Egypt and Cote d’lvoire as all three sides ended the group stage on four points apiece. Four years later in Algeria, they reached the CAN semi¬final but lost narrowly to the outstanding home team, Algeria, by a single goal. They finished the tournament in fourth place after suffering another 1-0 defeat to Zambia in the third-place play-off.
Two years later, expectations were high as Senegal hosted the tournament in 1992 and played in front of thousands of fanatical fans. The pressure on the players proved to be their undoing as they struggled to play to expectations and were eliminated at the quarter¬final stage by Cameroon. Thousands of Senegalese fans wept in the streets of Dakar as their dreams were cruelly dashed. Bocande became a pariah overnight as fans blamed him for the team’s lack of goals throughout the tournament.