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   31 May, 2002 | 2307 IST



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A soccer lesson from Senegal

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Alberto Botelho

Senegal brought reigning champions France crashing down to earth in the opening match of the World Cup. A lesson in history, culture and geography, not to speak of soccer.

Senegal is tucked in West Africa. Senegal's most famous export is Youssou N'Dour, an exponent of world music. Add a plucky Senegal soccer team which plies its trade in the French domestic league to the list now.

Senegal has been ravaged by civil war since its independence in 1960. Today, the newbies of world soccer taught their French idols a lesson in guerilla warfare. Beckam gets fulsome praise for running an average of 14 km. during a match. Chances are these Africans cut their teeth on soccer, probably running the same distance to fetch firewood.

Senegal showed the world why they are known as the 'Lions of West Africa'. France had the major share of the ball, but it was Senegal which combined and defended well, moving up aggressively on the counter. Unfazed by the top billing of the French, they played close to each other and did a fantastic job of bottling up the French midfield.

Trezeguet and Henry always posed a danger. The former found the woodwork in the 22nd minute. But Coly and Daf in the Senegal defence afforded them little space. And when they tackled, they crunched French knees and legs.

The tenacity and dogged determination of Senegal paid off in the 29th minute. Diouf broke through on the left, shrugged off his marker, LeBoeuf and crossed. Petit falling back, tapped it to Barthez who was caught wrong footed. The ball bounced off Barthez. Papa Bouba Diop, lurking in the area, lunged and whipped the ball in with his left foot.

It was a stunning strike. An injured Zidane on the bench seemed as if he was seated in the pews attending a funeral as he watched a dysfunctional midfield. His replacement, Djorkaeff tried vainly to fill in his boots. The talented Vieira made a guest appearance in midfield. It was left to the defenders Desailly, LeBoeuf and Thuram to do all the running and create the openings.

In the second half, France had the better part of ball possession. Again, against the run of play, Senegal took the French by surprise. In the 64th min, Senegal almost clinched the issue when Fadiga dribbled past a few defenders and volleyed to find the woodwork.

Thereafter, Les Bleus attacked in waves. In the 65th min, Henry rocked the horizontal. The Senegal citadel came in for severe attack during this period, but the defence held on gamely.

If the defence was competent, goalkeeper Sylva, Senegal's second choice was brilliant. He assisted his defence by rushing outside the box and clearing. He was strong both in the air and on the ground. He kept cleanly right through and in the 90th min, he denied Henry from an acute angle by effecting a fine save.

By throwing their men upfront, France was always in danger of falling further in arrears. Fadiga and Diouf were constant threats. Towards the fag end, a desperate Lemerre substituted Wiltord for the talented Cisse but to no avail. France turned on the heat till the very end, but the openings were speculative and lacked conviction.

In the end, Senegal's fighting spirit triumphed over France's rustiness. If the roar of the Lions from West Africa is anything to go by, expect fancied teams to get ambushed by the other ambassadors of African soccer.


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