All it takes is one decent performance at a World Cup tournament and players' careers (at least leading players) take of: Offers from the Europe’s biggest clubs come pouring in, agents start to make contact and players are suddenly a household name. Such is the impact of one good performance of any national team on football’s biggest stage of them all.
Such was the performance of Senegal national team in 2002 World Cup Japan and South Korea. Suddenly, Senegal, not a very large and powerful country in Africa’s eastern shore, was in the news and its players became a hot commodity. It might be an even greater surprise, because the 2002 World Cup was the first time ever Senegal qualified for the tournament, and it came after an impressive show at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations, where Senegal made it all the way to the final match, before losing 2-3 to Cameroon on penalty kicks.
On its first ever match in a World Cup, Senegal beat the champion France 1-0 on a Papa Bouba Diop goal. It then finished in a 1-1 draw with Denmark and a 3-3 draw with Uruguay, that was enough to qualify for the round of 16, where it beat Sweden 2-1 on two Henri Camara goals. The quarter-finals were a bit too much and Senegal lost 0-1 to Turkey.
So how about those players? Before the tournament, Senegal had 21 players playing for teams mostly in France Ligue 1. The next season, Aliou Cisse transferred from Montpellier to Birmingham City Henri Camara from Sedan to Wolverhampton Wanderers Khalilou Fadiga from Auxerre to Inter El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao from Lens and Sedan, respectably, to Liverpool Papa Bouba Doip from Grasshoppers to Lens to Fulham, and so on.
Actually, its quiet a miracle that Senegal is able to compete at such level. The country lacks infrastructure in general and football infrastructure in particular, and it is very common to watch children play on sand pitches, chasing a make-shift ball bare footed. Senegal's Ligue 1 contains 14 teams, some of them with a stadium capacity of only 1,000 spectators, or a little over. It was no surprise then, that during July 2017 eight spectators were killed and many more injured while attending a league final match in 30,000 seat Demba Diop Stadium in Dakar, after a wall had collapsed when clashes broke out between supporters of two local teams and police was trying to enforce peace.
Senegal's most capped player is Henry Camara, who registered 99 appearances between 1999-2008. Camara is also the country's top goal scorer with 29 goals.
The national team play its home games in 60,000 seat Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor.
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