The Sports Archives – Senegal Beats France in the 2002 World Cup
Senegalese Papa Bouba Diop (C) celebrates his goal as he flees France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez (C back) while Youri Djorkaeff (L), Frank Leboeuf (L back) and Emmanuel Petit (R) react at the World Cup final in Seoul May 31, 2002. REUTERS / Dylan Martinez The World Cup is the height of competition for any soccer […]

Senegalese Papa Bouba Diop (C) celebrates his goal as he flees France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez (C back) while Youri Djorkaeff (L), Frank Leboeuf (L back) and Emmanuel Petit (R) react at the World Cup final in Seoul May 31, 2002. REUTERS / Dylan Martinez

The World Cup is the height of competition for any soccer player and fan. This is the moment when, every four years, the 32 best teams in the world compete for the biggest prize offered. In 2002, the World Cup in Japan and South Korea was to start with a big clash between Senegal and France.

The clash was symbolic as it represented the current World Cup holder France who had a chance to defend their title. There were a few players from 1998 who were no longer on the squad. But many still were. The likes of Patrick Vieira, Marcel Desailly, Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry and Fabien Barthez had been there and had seen it all. They were in their prime and were among the favorites to win the World Cup again. It's rare for a team to win back-to-back World Cups, but France was always expected to reach the semi-finals or the final.

However, no one expected Senegal to win 1-0. No one expected this African nation, which had never been to a World Cup before, to achieve anything other than a loss in this game. In fact, the question among pundits and punters was how many goals France would score. The world was stunned when the final whistle sounded and Senegal claimed a 1-0 victory. They had beaten the reigning champions and favorites France - they had secured a victory in their very first World Cup game.

Papa Bouba Diop scored the only goal of the match in the 30e minute. A response from France was expected, but it never came. They attacked more in the second half, but it seemed the team had left their minds at home as they had no answer for the resolute Senegalese defense.

The trajectory of the two teams in this tournament was decided by this first match. Senegal reached the quarter-finals, while France did not even make the group stages. It was a humiliating tournament for France, with so many star players failing to deliver an iota of what they could on their best day. And for Senegal and its players, it was a fairy tale. Their fans were just happy to have the chance to see the team at such a stadium. They weren't expecting anything, let alone a place among the top eight teams in the world.

The game is one that football fans will always remember. Why? Because he teaches us two lessons about sport. The first lesson is that just because we don't know anything about a team doesn't mean we have to write them off. Senegalese players weren't famous until this game, but that doesn't mean they lacked quality. And the second lesson is that if you want to stay the best, you have to give your all in every game. The French players thought that their reputation was enough to win this game, but you don't win football matches on reputation.


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