We are on May 31, 2002, in Seoul. That day, Senegal faces France at the World Cup. It’s an expected opening game, given the common history of the two countries. “We were playing a historic match, in relation to colonization, in relation to our French-speaking side”, explains Alassane Ndour, former Senegalese international and left-back of the 2002 team. Senegal was colonized by France until 1960, the date of independence.
France are defending champions after winning at home in 1998. They are also reigning European champions after winning the Euros in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000. the competition. But it is deprived of its main star Zinédine Zidane, injured a week earlier during a friendly match won against South Korea (3-2). Senegal, plays him his first World Cup.
On the technical point we had nothing to envy the French.Alassane Ndour, former Senegal international and left-back for the 2002 squad.
“We could write our name in the football archives”
Khalilou Fadiga, Aliou Cissé, Lamine Diatta,… The team is armed with big names from Senegal. “On the technical point we had nothing to envy the Frenchdares Alassane Ndour. We could show that we had learned quickly. We could write our name in the football archives.“That year, Senegal had just emerged as a finalist at the last African Cup of Nations (CAN) and stood out during the knockout stages of the World Cup.
Les Bleus do not expect what will soon become a historic moment for their opponent. “We had felt a little contempt from the France teamremembers Alassane Ndour. The day before, our coach, Bruno Metsu, showed us reports, where we felt that they had the impression of being superior. Bruno told us: “There, they don’t respect you, they don’t even know you.”
And from the 30th minute, the Blues are taken aback. A simple acceleration and a dribble from Senegalese striker El-Hadji Diouf followed by a pass to his counterpart Papa Bouba Diop, and it’s a cold shower. The Senegalese striker scores. The goalkeeper of the Blues, Fabien Barthez, on the ground, can only see the damage. France will not be able to come back to the score (1-0). For Senegal, this goal and this victory, “it’s as if the country had won the World Cup”, explains Léonard Ndiaye, secretary general of the Dakar Football League.
On their own, people in the street in Dakar made the trip to the palace to express their joy to the President.
Léonard Ndiaye, secretary general of the Dakar Football League.
A day « crazy woman » and an « cheering crowd” in Dakar
From the end of the match and until the next day, “it was all the people who were jubilant.” Léonard Ndiaye is in Dakar that day. Flag of Senegal around the shoulder, President Abdoulaye Wade appropriates this victory. « It’s quite funny, he said this sentence: « We beat France, we are the world champions”, remembers the player Alassane Ndour. Directly, the former left-back calls his family. “Even talking to someone on the phone was too complicated, there was noise everywhere.”
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For its part, the crowd, gathered in Dakar, decides to join the palace of the President. “Nothing was planned, on their own, the people in the street made the trip to the palace to show their joy to the President.“Despite the risks involved, Abdoulaye Wade allows himself a walkabout, alongside his wife and his Prime Minister.
“He had practically no close guard (…). I think the protocol services have understood. They suggested to the President to go out and join the crowd”, recalls Abdoulaye Wade.
Political recovery or not, the gesture marks the Senegalese people, and gives strength to the players, still in competition. “It motivated us even more for the followinge, comments Alassane Ndour. We said to ourselves: “We won against France but we want to do even more. We want to go down in history.“Beyond the sporting achievement, it is a whole symbol that Alassane and the other players of Senegal are attacking.
There was no better way to be seen, to be known and to be respected.
Alassane Ndour, former Senegal international and left-back for the 2002 squad.
A turning point for football and Senegalese society
It was a victory against the former defending champion, of course, but also against the former colonizer. “There was no better way to be seen, to be known and to be respected”, recalls the former Senegalese international.
“France has served as an example to us in everything we do. In the economic, educational system, we have always referred to what she did best, complements Secretary General Léonard Ndiaye. People saw through this victory the idea that we could prosper like French people”. With this in mind, Senegal is gaining confidence in its ability to compete with the greatest, and is professionalizing its football.
“In 2003, the creation of the Ministry of Sport launched professional football in the country », explains Leonard Ndiaye. Something that had not existed since independence in 1946.”At the time, Senegalese football had always been amateur football. Even when qualifying for the World Cup that year”, completes the Secretary General of the Senegalese Football Federation.
Léonard Ndiaye even dares to ironically thank France. “Through this victory, we feel the fruits of all these investments made in football. »
In the round of 16, Senegal beat Sweden 2-1 with a golden goal during extra time. The Lions then meet Turkey in the quarter-finals for a more defensive game which goes 0 – 0 at the end of regulation time despite the numerous chances. After only 3 minutes of extra time, Turkey put an end to the Senegalese dream by scoring a superb golden goal.
Twenty years later, Senegal have become the best African team, champion of the CAN, and are preparing to enter the 2022 World Cup. They will have to do without their star, Sadio Mané, injured in the knee, but can, at any time, rekindle the hope and joy of 2002.
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