Article: Michael Quaye
From a modest historical background in the Africa Cup of Nations series, the Teranga Lions of Senegal have become one of the feared names in African football in recent times. And in Ghana 2008, they have deservingly been tagged as one of the favourites for the trophy.
This status reflects the rising image of a team that has improved consistently from a quarter final berth in Ghana-Nigeria 2000 through its upset victory over then world and European champions, France, at the Japan-Korea World Cup in 2002.
Indeed, the Teranga Lions came closest to their first continental title in the same 2002 when they lost on penalties to African superpower, Cameroun’s Indomitable Lions, in Mali after the two ‘Lions’ had battled to a goalless draw in extra time.
They lost out at the quarter-final stage in 2004, losing to host nation and eventual winners, Tunisia, in an ill-tempered afternoon tie and finished the last edition in Egypt in fourth place.
Until Senegal’s recent progressive rise, however, the West African country had made its biggest impact in continental football in 1992 when they went out at the quarter-final stage and repeated the feat in Tunisia two years later.
Such has been the pedigree of the Teranga Lions that when they lost the bid for a place at the Germany 2006 World Cup to unfancied Togo, Senegal’s influential player and former Africa’s best, El-Hadj Diouf, believed it was one of the biggest injustices in the game.
It was a view in which many might have shared in the period leading to the World Cup, particularly after Cote d’Ivoire emerged as the only one among five African World Cup finalists to progress beyond group play in Egypt 2006. Ghana’s performance before its second round exit in Germany would, though, nullify the low regard the teams were accorded before the tournament.
On the fringe side, Senegal had long made an impact while the world watched elsewhere. Competing in a ‘minor’ Amilcar Cabral Cup, a tournament played in honour of a former nationalist who concentrated his freedom-fighting activities in Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, Senegal began its conquest in 1979 when the country first won the trophy, before clinching it seven more times in 1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991 and 2001. The Teranga Lions have also been runners-up five times.
Senegal has also won the CEDEAO Cup, the French name of the ECOWAS Cup — a tournament for West African countries — once in 1985 and came second in 1990 and 1991.
Despite its belated entry into the roster of “do wells”, Senegal is not short on producing some of the continent’s finest players. In Rasta-haired former play-maker, Jules Bocande, they had an icon of a player who inspired the entire country into believing that success could soon come their way.
Bocande played alongside a generation of true stars, including defenders Roger Mendy and Adolf Mendy, while Khalilou Fadiga, Mohamed Sarr, Luke Carson, Oumar Diallo, Mamadou Diallo, Amara Traore and Pape Bouba Diop have held the national flag higher recently.
The team, which played under Peter Schnittger from 1999 to 2000, Bruno Metsu from 2000 to 2002, Guy Stephan from 2002 to 2005 and native son Abdoulaye Sarr from 2005 to 2006, will be guided in Ghana 2008 by the experienced traveller, Henryk Kasperczak.