Peter Goldstein


 
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 this event.

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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 football.

    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.


 

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