Joining more than three billion football fans from around the world, tens of millions of Africans spent much of the month of June with their eyes glued to their TV screens or their ears focused on their radio receivers.
What was of such great intrigue and interest? The FIFA World Cup, of course!! This competition, which for the vast majority of earth dwellers is the most important sporting event, comes only once every four years. 32 teams from every continent met in Korea and Japan to compete for the title of world’s greatest national football team. For the first time in the history of the World Cup Africa was represented by five teams: Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
The 32 national teams where divided into eight divisions each comprised of four teams. In the first round of the tournament within each division each team plays the other three teams. Based on the results of divisional play the top two teams of each division moved on to the next round: the round of 16.
On May 31st in the opening game of the World Cup, Senegal stunned the world by defeating France, who was the defending World Cup champions. While commentators called this win one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history, fans in Senegal (and indeed in the rest of Africa) went wild!! All activity in Senegal came to a standstill. In fact, President Wade, declared May 31 a holiday -schools and business were closed to facilitate the celebration!
Unfortunately, the other African teams did not do as well as Senegal which was the only African team to make it through to the round of 16. Senegal became Africa’s team! From Cairo in Egypt in the north, to Cape Town, South Africa in the south; and from Dakar, Senegal in West Africa to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania on the Indian Ocean, people were rooting for their team, Africa’s team -Senegal.
In dramatic fashion Senegal defeated Sweden in over-time to move on to the quarter-finals. In World Cup history, only one other African team, Cameroon, had ever reached the quarter-finals.
Senegal’s opponent in the quarter-final round was Turkey. At the end of regulation time the teams were in a 0-0 tie. However, in early minutes of over-time Turkey scored the only and winning goal of the match.
Although they lost this final match, Senegal returned home with great pride and the adulation of all Senegalese. No one had expected Senegal to perform at such a high level.
African football is growing stronger. In 2006 in Germany, which hosts the next World Cup, expect great things from African teams!
Senegalese players celebrating their 2-1 victory over Sweden in the round of 16. Copyright FIFA, 2002
Nigerian player (green) in first round match against England. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Copyright FIFA, 2002