By starting their World Cup with a win, Senegal also saved Africa from embarrassment in the tournament.
The continent was facing the prospect of a worst-ever World Cup start before Senegal beat Poland yesterday. The 2-1 victory was the first and only African win in the first round of matches, after Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia all lost their opening games. A few hours after Senegal’s win, Egypt then also lost their second match, 3-1, against Russia.
As in 2002 when Senegal beat then-defending champions France in their opening match, they now hope to build on the momentum. But coach Aliou CissÈ said beating the Poles didn’t have the same history-making feel of the 1-0 victory in 2002 against the French, Senegal’s former colonial masters. From there, in what was their first and until now only World Cup, Senegal went on a run to the quarter-finals.
“It is not the same thing, not the same flavour,” CissÈ said. “Everyone knows the history of France and of Senegal. France was the colonising power of Senegal. We were the immigrant sons of that France.”
Not since 1974 – when Zaire, its only representative, lost all three of its matches, conceded 14 goals and scored none – had Africa been without at least a win or a draw in the first matches. Since the World Cup expanded to a 32-team format in 1998, the worst opening round for African teams was in 2006, when CÙte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Angola all lost their first matches and Tunisia drew 2-2 with Saudi Arabia.
Although contesting only their second World Cup, Senegal could end up carrying the hopes of all Africa if the continent’s other teams don’t quickly pick themselves up. Morocco face a tough task against Portugal and Spain in Group B. Nigeria have to play Argentina and resilient Iceland in Group D. Tunisia have the more manageable Panama but a tough match against Belgium in Group G.
Senegal’s next opponents in Group H are Japan and Colombia.