Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
France 0, Senegal 10,000,000
The country of Senegal has adopted a motto, "le Senegal qui gagne," meaning
"Senegal that wins." It's a saying that for the Senegalese epitomizes their
togetherness and ambition, that announces them as a country aiming to grow
in stature and influence in a globalized world. And if you were watching the
events at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on May 31 (and of course you were),
you saw the Senegal that wins, winning. It may have looked like nothing more
than one eleven over another, but if you ask them in Dakar, you'll get the
truth: when the final whistle blew, it was the people of Senegal, all ten
million of them, that had triumphed.
Since it began to look like a contender in the African qualifiers, Senegal's
football team has been the major focus of the country. It may be coached by
a Frenchman, it may be manned by players who have spent a good portion of
their lives in France, but it has become the primary symbol of the nation.
Everyone's a football fan in Senegal now. The entire political leadership of
Senegal have allied themselves with the team, partly out of convenience, of
course, but seemingly also out of a genuine understanding of what the squad
means to the people at large. The players aren't just celebrities, they're
in effect diplomatic representatives of the nation. They have what amounts
to free access to Senegal's top officials; literally, if El Hadji Diouf
wants to talk to the President, all he has to do is pick up the phone.
And there's been a lot to talk about. Victory after victory: the crucial win
over Morocco in the qualifiers, the clinching rout of Namibia, the wins in
the African Nations Cup over Egypt, Zambia, DR Congo, and amazingly,
mesmerizingly, with 10 against 11 for most of the game, Nigeria. Each
victory along the way has been greeted as a piece of Senegalese patriotic
heroism. Even the loss in the Nations Cup Final was cause for celebration:
Senegal had taken mighty unbeatable Cameroon to penalty kicks, and what more
could you ask of your heroes?
It's no mystery why the team has come to represent the country in such an
all-embracing fashion. Almost the only way for smaller, poorer countries to
make a mark on the world is athletics. A Senegalese business can't even
think about competing with a multinational American corporation, but when
the Olympics come around, a Senegalese hurdler can line up right next to one
from America, and run the same race. At Seoul 1988, Amadou Dia Ba did just
that, winning the silver medal in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles,
finishing ahead of the "unbeatable" Edwin Moses. So Senegal, the Senegal
that wins, was in the headlines -- just as they are now, from a result in
the same city, fourteen years later.
That the victory came over France has special meaning. Much has been written
about the connection between Senegal and their former colonial masters.
Dakar was the capital of the French West African empire, and nowhere in
Africa is the French cultural influence stronger. On the whole, the
Senegalese have more embraced than rejected it. They retain close political
and economic ties with France; some Senegalese even refer to France as the
homeland. As you probably know, many of the Senegalese players were born
and grew up in France; they all play their club football there. That Patrick
Viera plays for France is just as appropriate as that Khalilou Fadiga, born
in Paris, plays for Senegal. The Senegalese took to the streets in Dakar to
celebrate the victory; they also took to the streets in Paris.
But inevitably the France/Senegal relationship is not one between equals.
Ask the Senegalese man in the street, and he'll tell you, with some
justification, that the French look down on them. Amity is fine, but
colonialism is colonialism and paternalism is paternalism. One-nil over
France is more than a victory over a friendly rival; it's a result that
says: we're as good as you. Four decades after independence, we're as good
as you. In the early 1800's the pride of the French nation was Napoleon's
army; in 2002, it's the football team. And the pride of France has been
humbled by poor, servile, but now oh so powerful, Senegal.
Relevant here is the way the Senegalese responded to the "Fadiga affair,"
that little embarassment in which police arrested Khalilou Fadiga for
stealing a necklace from a Seoul department store. (Later it came out that
it was a silly pampered-footballer prank, done on a bet.) When the first
reports of the case filtered through to Senegal, did the press denounce
their hero, or speak of their shame? No. The Sud Quotidien criticized the
media for sending out contradictory reports of the incident, implying that
it could not have happened in the manner described. Le Soleil opined that
the whole thing was a setup, designed by the French to destabilize the team
shortly before the big game. Only the next day, when it became clear that
the cameras had caught him in the act, and that there was no denying the
facts, did they come to grips with the affair. Everyone in the press took
the same tack: this is in itself an insignificant matter, but the lesson is
clear -- you are representing Senegal, make sure you represent her well.
Even more revealing was the reaction of the government: the President of
Senegal himself sent Youssou Ndiaye to Seoul as a morale-booster. Who is
Youssou Ndiaye? Well, he was a notable Senegalese footballer, who scored
against France in a famous game in 1963. He was a FIFA referee, who
represented Senegal at the 1974 World Cup in Germany. And it just so happens
that in 2002 he is none other than the head of the Constitutional Council in
Senegal -- in effect, the country's chief magistrate. At this moment in the
history of Senegal, there is no difference between the nation and its
What about the football, then? Well, you're bound to hear lots of
comparisons to Argentina-Cameroon 1990, but in footballing terms this was
something quite different. Cameroon 1990 was a team of extremes, of all that
was good and bad about an older generation of African football. They were
brilliant in the midfield, destructive in defense, dazzling, erratic,
unpredictable. Senegal against France looked almost European: only
moderately skilled but superbly marshaled and organized. Bruno Metsu fielded
a tight 4-5-1, with El Hadji Diouf as the lone striker. His usual partner,
Henri Camara, was replaced by midfielder Moussa Ndaiye, who nominally played
on the right side of attack but spent much of his time tracking back on
defense. Fadiga, wearing number 10, didn't even try to fulfill the playmaker
role: instead, he was on his accustomed left side, playing low key, looking
for openings in counterattack. And the rest of the midfield was simply
packed in: Diao, Bouba Diop, Cisse, all natural defenders, strong on
intelligence and perserverance. The back four (except for Ferdinand Coly on
the right) was, as many had projected, a weakness, but the defensive cover
in midfield shut the champions out completely. Predictably, France's best
chances came on longer balls where they could isolate their forwards against
the vulnerable centerbacks, Diatta and Malick Diop, and against left back
Omar Daf, who had an off-game. But even that wasn't enough against the
desire and discipline of the Lions of the Teranga.
In future times, of course, the legend of this victory will grow: in the
gathering-places of Dakar, and Paris too, the Senegalese will be remembered
as dazzling artists, bewildering the Frenchmen with their native skill. But
it wasn't so. Except for the magnificent Diouf, they were technically
ordinary. But they had a well-thought-out game plan and stuck to it. A
European coach, a European style, with European players: is this the Africa
of the future, unexciting yet effective? For a contrast, watch South Africa
against Paraguay: the coach of Bafana Bafana, Jomo Sono, has told his team
not to worry so much about tactics, and to go out there and enjoy
themselves. Check their results closely: it's crossroads time for Africa.
What now for Senegal? I confess I didn't expect this win; I thought they
would be too awed to perform with their customary cohesiveness on the world
stage. But this game was their World Cup Final, the game in which they could
prove themselves worthy, the one and only game they had been thinking about
since the draw in December. No matter what they say -- and to a man they're
saying that they've just started out, and the goal is to qualify for the
second round -- the rest of the cup has to be a letdown for them. This was a
well-deserved victory, but they are not a supremely talented team, and are
by no means certain to pick up points in their next two games. My guess is
that they'll stick with the 4-5-1, at least for a while: two draws will
almost certainly qualify them; even one draw alone may do it.
But the numbers game is irrelevant for the moment. We all saw it -- how many
of us were watching? -- the Senegal that wins. They're in the streets of
Dakar, and in the suburbs, and in the provinces, and in the deepest, most
isolated reaches of the nation, maybe all ten million of them, celebrating
their place at the center of the world. Not just the football world, but the
world itself -- because during World Cups there is no difference.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.