Senegal shocked the world in 2002 when they faced defending champions, France at the Seoul Stadium in South Korea. The West African giants went toe-to-toe against their better-rated and more favored colonial masters for majority of the duration of the contest. They’d snatched a win half an hour into the game. It was a moment that underlined the greatness of that generation of players managed by Bruno Metsu.
In the Round of 16 clash against Sweden, Senegal scored the winner through a Henry Camara golden goal, and equalled the greatest feat of any African nation at the World Cup by qualifying for the Quarter Finals, only losing to a late golden goal against Turkey. They were on the verge of doing the impossible for so long. They did the impossible for their country in Korea and Japan. But was the impossible enough?
Almost three months before the Asian party, Senegal had lost the African Cup of Nations title by whiskers in Mali. Arguably still the best Senegalese side in history to date, they had El Hadj Diouf, the best player on the continent at the time, and also possessed a collection of some of the finest footballers in Senegal history. Cameroon at the time had the fine combination of luck and talents. They were too good to be stopped.
Senegal came short, however, as the squad cracked after they failed to win any silverware. Scandals and reports of internal wrangling came to be the albatross of a team that left the vestige of its deeply-seated greatness for many to see. It was a team many felt could have gone far. It was a golden generation that didn’t dig deep enough. They could have done more and better.
The memories of past ‘failures’ at the death came knocking again in 2019 when Senegal lost to Algeria at the final of the AFCON in Egypt. That also happened almost a year after the team was eliminated at the group stage of the 2018 World Cup through the toss of the coin. Like the generation they come closest to in terms of promise, they have also missed out to luck and other fine details. But that’s not enough to retire to fate. Senegalese locals want more. Football breeds great hope for the country. It has changed the lives of many and the footballers are some of the greatest ambassadors of the Senegal dream.
In coach, Aliou Cisse, they have a man who knows the feeling. He understands the weight a talented generation can carry, having been the captain of one. He was the skipper of the golden generation set of 2002 and understands the pressure that comes with great expectations. He is in the middle of two golden generations, and both have come short now, until the moment, at least.
Senegal are the best-rated team in Africa, and 20th in the world but this has never proven enough to curry a trophy to the cabinet. They have some of the finest players in Africa and in the world and can look forward to having a team that can compete against the best from anywhere.
The current generation of players has strong chemistry, a bond that keeps them together and a coach that has the experience of how the lack of togetherness can put paid to big dreams.
It’s time the Lions of Teranga dug deeper to find the gold that glitters round this generation. And only an AFCON triumph will ensure that.
Senegal squad for AFCON:
Goalkeepers: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, England), Alfred Gomis (Rennes, France), Seny Dieng (Queens Park Rangers, England).
Defenders: Bouna Sarr (Bayern Munich, Germany), Saliou Ciss (Nancy, France), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy), Pape Abou Cisse (Olympiakos, Greece), Abdoulaye Seck (Royal Antwerp, Belgium), Abdou Diallo (Paris Saint-Germain, France), Ibrahima Mbaye (Bologna, Italy), Fode Ballo-Toure (AC Milan, Italy), Cheikhou Kouyate (Crystal Palace, England).
Midfielders: Pape Matar Sarr (Metz, France), Pape Gueye (Marseille, France), Nampalys Mendy (Leicester City, England), Idrissa Gana Gueye (Paris Saint-Germain, France), Moustapha Name (Paris FC, France), Mamadou Loum (Alaves, Spain), Joseph Lopy (Sochaux, France).
Forwards: Boulaye Dia (Villarreal, Spain), Sadio Mané (Liverpool, England), Habib Diallo (Strasbourg, France), Bamba Dieng (Marseille, France), Ismaila Sarr (Watford, England), Famara Diedhiou (Alanyaspor, Turkey), Mame Baba Thiam (Kayserispor,Turkey), Keita Balde (Cagliari, Italy).
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