Video Editor: Vishal Kumar
In the opening match of the 2002 World Cup, defending champions France locked horns with a nation that had been a French colony till 1960.
Zinedine Zidane’s side had thrashed then four-time champions Brazil 3-0 just four years ago for France to lift their maiden World Cup. What’s more, the Frenchmen had won Euro 2000 too! So naturally, as the 2002 edition of the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Japan and South Korea, France were billed as one of the favourites.
Thierry Henry. Patrick Vieira. David Trezeguet. On paper, France looked formidable. But those in the stands that day at the Seoul World Cup Stadium had another thing coming. Senegal was about to make history on their World Cup debut. Incidentally, all of Senegal’s players played for French clubs!
When in the 31st minute, El Hadji Diouf sent the ball into the box, and Papa Bouba Diop scrambled to put it in, the celebrations were euphoric. Senegal held on for the remainder of the 90 minutes, and recorded one of World Cup football’s greatest upsets.
A goalless draw against Uruguay and a 2-0 loss to Denmark later, the French side were on the flight back home.
The defending champions of the World Cup and the holders of the European Football Championship had a solitary point to show at the end of three matches. And it was the newest entrant into World Cup football that had begun their collapse out of the Cup.
They drew 1-1 with Denmark. And 3-3 with Uruguay. Storming through to the Round of 16. There, they defeated Sweden. And broke into the quarters. They faced Turkey, and held them to a goalless 90 minutes.
In extra time, in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup, Senegal finally succumbed as Turkish forward İlhan Mansız found the back of the net.
It was a dream run that came to a close, magnificent by any measure. Sixteen years later, the 2018 World Cup became their first time at the event since then, and their second time ever. In their opening Group H match, Senegal beat Poland 2-1 to become the first African football team to win at the 2018 World Cup.
The squad has changed, the faces aren’t the same, but can Senegal recreate the magic they wreaked in Japan and South Korea?