Senegal – The Pinnacle
The decline set in and by the time of the CAN in Tunisia in 1994, Senegal were a pale shadow of themselves. They were eliminated by a single goal by a fast improving Zambia in the quarter¬finals. It would then be six years before the Senegalese returned to play in the finals of Africa’s premier competition and it was clear, as they made it to the quarter-finals, that a great side was in the making. Although El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara, Kalilou Fadiga and others would later become household names in world football, at the time they were relatively unknown but served notice of their potential by reaching the quarter-finals and losing 2-1 to Nigeria after extra time. Their performance at the Africa Cup of Nations was the springboard for their successful 2002 FIFA World Cup’” campaign from which they achieved their first ever World Cup qualification, with El Hadji Diouf in particular tearing through defences almost at will as he drove the team to greater and greater heights.
Senegal arrived in Korea in good spirits, and after reaching the final of the CAN in Mali, a match which they only lost after a penalty shoot-out, were fully confident of their ability to do well at the World Cup.
Their victory over France has now become part of football folklore. The Senegalese played like a team possessed as they chased every ball, tackled ferociously and played with no shortage of skill. The lone goal, a tap in from close range by Papa Bouba Diop, made history and the talented side went on to reach the quarter-finals where they eventually bowed out at the hands of a Turkish side that went on to reach the semi-finals. Such was the form of the Senegalese side that El Hadji Diouf was named in the FIFA all-star team.
It was to be the pinnacle of the careers of many of the Senegalese players and though they did not know it, Senegal would struggle to reach the heights of 2002. With success in Korea and Japan came the rush for Senegalese players and Aliou Cisse, Salif Diao, El Hadji Diouf, Papa Bouba Diop, Diomansy Camara and Henri Camara all won moves to English football in the wake of Senegal’s achievements.