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   30 May, 2002 | 2020 IST



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Senegal holds its breath

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Luckily the unthinking Senegalese official who planned a meeting for Friday realised in time that nobody was going to turn up.

"How can you have a meeting when the whole country will be watching Senegal play France?" asked an incredulous spokeswoman for the ministry that has now rejigged its diary.

Tense anticipation is building in the West African country, already decked out in a blaze of national colours, before the most important match in its history when Senegal and France meet in Seoul to kick off the World Cup finals.

The game between the first-time-qualifiers and the champions could hardly be between two countries bound more closely by personal and historic ties.

Eager football fans already parade in Senegal's national strip on the streets of what was the capital of France's West African empire before independence in 1960.

Radio stations broadcast a constant supply of new songs praising the "Lions".

"There is no doubt we will win the match," predicted Ousmane Diop at Dakar's bustling Sandaga market.

"Stop dreaming," shot back fruit trader Mamadou Diop. "How can we defeat the world champions?"

There is not much room for talk about anything else.

Spirits soared at news that France's inspirational Zinedine Zidane was ruled out of the game through injury -- prompting local papers to suggest it might already be a victory for the powers of West African sorcery.

But hopes took a knock after reports that midfielder Khalilou Fadiga had been placed under investigation in South Korea on suspicion of stealing a gold necklace from a jewellery store.

"The Senegalese hope this is just total fabrication, simple misinformation. A pure attempt at destabilisation in a psychological war," said state daily le Soleil .

"The psychological battle has already started between French and Senegalese players."

The Senegalese know their footballing enemy well since -- in everything else -- the former colonial power remains a good friend. France still has a military base in Senegal and sends thousands of tourists every year to its tropical beaches.

Senegal's coach is French and every member of the team's starting line-up for the Group A match plays club football in the French first division.

Playing in French colours will be Patrick Vieira, who was born in Senegal in 1972 but grew up in France. His grandparents will be among the few in Senegal not rooting for the home side on Friday.

"Beating France would be so important," said businessman Hussein Ba. "It could really be a turning point in the lives of many Senegalese."

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