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In 2002, Senegal participated for the first time in its history in the World Cup. An edition organized in Korea and Japan where the Lions had surprised the whole world by beating the French world champions in the opening match and ending their historic journey in the quarter-finals. Two decades later, Senegal aims to become the first African team to reach the last four of a World Cup.

February 2022. For the first time in its history, the Senegal football team lifts a trophy by winning the Africa Cup of Nations. A performance which made a whole people proud but which is not yet comparable in the hearts of many Senegalese to what is called in the local media universe: “the epic of 2002”. The World Cup in Qatar which begins Monday, November 21 for the Lions of Teranga can allow this generation to change that.

The adventure of 2002, Amdy Faye lived it intensely. This “box to box” midfielder, that is to say effective in both surfaces according to the football jargon from English, was one of the 23 players of this Senegal who achieved in 2002 the best performance of an African team in the World Cup (tied with Nigeria in 1990 and Ghana in 2010).

Senegal jerseys are offered to passers-by on Avenue Georges Pompidou in downtown Dakar
Senegal jerseys are offered to passers-by on Avenue Georges Pompidou in downtown Dakar © Elimane Ndao, France 24

“Senegal is world champion”

“We were sure of ourselves,” he recalls when he is invited to dive back into the past, in the lobby of a large hotel in downtown Dakar. “We played in the same clubs as the French players at the time. I remember well the day of the draw. I was with Djibrill Cissé, my teammate at AJ Auxerre (striker for the France team in 2002, NLDR). When Senegal fell into the group of France, he made fun of me by telling me that we were going to be extras at the World Cup. On arrival, we beat them well” he jokes, bursting out laughing.

A victory against “the colonizing country” he specifies ironically, which had been celebrated in an indescribable euphoria in the streets of Dakar. President Abdoulaye Wade had even declared during a parade in the streets of the capital and in front of an enthusiastic and jubilant crowd: “Today by beating the team which is world champion, Senegal is world champion.

>> To read also: Dakar Sacré-Coeur: “Senegal has extraordinary sporting potential”

Twenty years later, on sandy ground in the Nord Foire district of Dakar near the Voie de Dégagement Nord, one of the most strategic roads in the city, we can see that the Senegalese passion for football is still alive. . Young people play “calcio”, the Italian term used in Senegal to designate these football matches between friends before dusk. Sitting on a tire at the edge of the playing surface, Idrissa watches his friends play while giving them instructions from time to time, like a coach: “Keep calm. He has his back to the game. Don’t make a mistake”. Despite the consecration of Senegal for the first time in an international competition during the last CAN, he keeps deeper memories of the feat achieved by the 2002 generation. He was 11 years old during the Asian World Cup.

“I was like crazy on the evening of February 6 after Sadio Mané’s penalty which allowed Senegal to win the CAN. I toured the city in a tank top and celebrated our victory until the end of the night. But I admit that in terms of emotions, the 2002 World Cup was even stronger even if we were eliminated in the quarter-finals, “he explains.

Keep your feet on the ground

The white jersey with green and red sleeves from 2002 has become so legendary that it is as common to see the Senegalese wearing it in the streets of the capital as the recent jerseys. This tunic, Mouhamed Ghandour jealously guards one in his pharmacy, located in Plateau, in the heart of downtown Dakar. This pharmacist has carved out a place for himself in Senegalese football by rubbing shoulders with and forging ties of friendship with generations of Senegalese footballers from 1986 to 2002. In 2017, he co-directed as assistant coach the Senegal team at the 7-a-side football World Cup or mini football. He is now one of the most prominent football consultants on RTS1, national television. He also analyzes African football on BBC Africa.

A part of "calcium" on land in Nord Foire, a residential district of Dakar
Part of “calcio” on land in Nord Foire, a residential district of Dakar © Elimane Ndao, France 24

“I was a privileged spectator of the exploits of Generation 2002. The players of this team are good friends. Sometimes it is said that the teams that remain in the memories are not the teams that win but those that provide emotions. I admire the 2022 team. It brought tears to my eyes because I had been waiting for this AFCON since 1986. But the team that moved me the most emotionally was the 2002 team”.

Mouhamed Ghandour in his office.
Mouhamed Ghandour in his office. © Elimane Ndao, France 24

Ghandour is nostalgic but believes the new generation has different qualities from the old. They could be decisive for this World Cup in Qatar. Despite team star Sadio Mané being out through injury, he believes Senegal still have a chance to reach the semi-finals.

“The current team is much more mature tactically and much more experienced. It is supervised by a trainer, Aliou Cissé, who remained in the position for several years and who knew how to instil in the players the spirit of winning and the niaque. On the mental level, the players don’t give up and we have seen it recently with victories obtained in the last minutes”, analyzes the pharmacist-consultant.

Resources that could be useful if Senegal intends to go far in the competition in Qatar.

The World Cup in Qatar beyond football:

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