February 7, 2022. Dakar. Hundreds of thousands of Senegalese were present in the streets of the capital to celebrate a historic event.
The day before, the national team won the African Cup of Nations for the first time in its history with a victory at the end of the suspense against Egypt (0-0, 4-2 on penalties).
To celebrate this title, the first of a major international competition for Lions of Terranga, February 7 was declared a “public holiday, unemployed and paid” by Macky Sall, the country’s president. This decision confirms the importance of football in the Senegalese landscape.
“It was amazing, it was amazing. When we got off the plane, we couldn’t get out, we couldn’t move because the Senegalese were outside. They were proud of us, but we were proud of them. We said to ourselves, should not be finished, the Senegalese deserve to always win a trophy, “recalls. Cheikhou Kouyatethe resident of Nottingham Forest who won the CAN 2021, about this procession that lasted eight hours.
In a few weeks, the public will be there for the final qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup, but there could be more, according to Aliou Cissé. The Senegalese coach dedicated his players’ victory over Egypt (1-0, 0-1, 3-1 on penalties) to their supporters, some of whom arrived at the stadium ten hours before kick-off.
“If the Diamniadio stadium has 16 million seats, 16 million Senegalese have gone there”, declared the coach of the national team in the ranks of world.
But Senegal, which will organize the Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2026did not wait for his first continental trophy to assign a real cult to the round ball.
Just three years after independence, the sport is already attracting people in Senegal
In 2019, the teammates of Sadio Mané, a Senegalese footballer from Bayern Munich who finished on the podium for the Ballon d’Or 2022, were defeated in the final of the continental meeting by Algeria (0-1). Despite this failure, there are already many people on the streets of Dakar to offer a triumphant welcome to the vice-champions of Africa.
And there he is Friendship Games in 1963, three years after the country’s independence. Senegal won the football tournament of this multisport competition, ancestor of the African Games. Proof of the Senegalese enthusiasm for football and sport in general, the opening ceremony took place in a Stade de l’Amitié that welcomed 40,000 spectators despite the announced capacity of 20,000 seats.
The national football team, born only a few months after independence, began its history with two continental semi-finals in the 20th century (1965 and 1990) and the organization of CAN in 1992. The stars that Senegalese at that time was called Roger Mendy where Jules Bocande. Ten years later, the Senegalese reached the CAN final for the first time.
This continued development allowed Senegal to join the top 20 of the FIFA rankings at the beginning of 2022 and become the first African country in four years.
The Senegalese public at the 2022 World Cup
Sadio Mané, from Senegal to the biggest club in the world
Although traditional wrestling has the status of national sport in Senegal, football is very popular. Many children kick a football in Dakar and other cities in this West African country.
In particular on the island of Gorée, with an area of less than 1 km2, which has a football field where competitions between young people take place. And what does it matter if a baobab, a sacred tree in Senegal, is between two goals.
“It’s a way of mixing between generations. Every Sunday, we see the old players playing with the younger ones and you don’t often see that in other stadiums, in other countries. This is important for the sociological balance of this island”, explained Augustin Senghor, the mayor of Gorée in a report by Canal+ dedicated to this unique stadium.
Nothing can stop Senegal’s passion for football. And it only grows when some youngsters trained in local clubs join the best teams in the world.
This is particularly the case of Sadio Maneto participate in London 2012 Olympic Games. The striker went through FC Metz before joining Liverpool, then Bayern Munich this summer. He was voted the best African player of the year twice.
Before him, another Senegalese player won this prestigious trophy: El Hadji Diouf.
An epic in the 2002 World Cup
The striker, notably passed by Lens and Liverpool, is the face of another golden generation of Lions of Terranga. In 2002, Senegal took part in the World Cup for the first time and made history.
Papa Bouba Diop scored the goal that defeated reigning world champions France in the opening game (1-0). The Senegalese managed to advance to the quarter-finals by overcoming Denmark (1-1) and Uruguay (3-3) before eliminating Sweden (2-1) in the round of 16. Their incredible story in finally ended in extra time in the quarter-final against Turkey (1-2). In the history of the World Cup, only one African country has made it to the top 8: Cameroon in 1990.
This performance allowed the world to discover the Senegalese passion for football to such an extent that in 2022, no one would be surprised to see an entire country celebrating its national team. Cheikhou Kouyaté sums up well the special relationship between the selection and their supporters.
“The national team belongs to the Senegalese people, it belongs to all Senegalese. »