For the first time since 2002, Senegal will play the finals of the AFCON. Some might say that due to their loss to Algeria 1-0 at the group stage and the current momentum and form of the Algerian national team, Senegal is a bit of an underdog for this final. However, expectations in Dakar are high, and the atmosphere is demanding. To better grasp the situation, I had the opportunity to talk with Daniel Aschheim, a Western diplomat based in Dakar and Boly Bah, a former senior local journalist. It seems that towards the final, the pressure over the team has several dimensions.
“The streets are silently dead during matches, and then after the final whistle the traffic jams and madness erupts”. This is how Aschheim described me the atmosphere in Dakar during the matches of the national team. However, for Bah who experienced already several tournaments as a local fan, the real celebration started only after the semifinal: “The minimum was to arrive to final so only after that we really celebrated”, she told me.
Some might think that the streets of Dakar were in ecstasy after every win of the Lions of Teranga. The truth is that the minimum expectation for this squad was to reach the final. The Senegalese squad is rich in talent, experience and has been playing together for several years already. Being the best African team in the FIFA ranking, anything but a final was seen as a failure. Therefore, only after the win over Tunisia the streets of Dakar were festive and joyful. There is no doubt why the expectations from the current squad are high.
A win in the memory of Ousmane Tanor Dieng
On Monday, July 15th, one of the most influential and beloved political figures in Senegal has passed away. Ousmane Tanor Dieng was the First Secretary of the Socialist Party of Senegal from 1996 to the day he died. Moreover, he ran for the presidential campaign in 2007 and finished third, a result which he accomplished again in 2012. But one of the things that Tanor Dieng was very famous for was his unconditional support of the national team. He attended every game of held in Dakar and supported Sadio Mane, Aliou Cisse and company even in his bed at the hospital. Tanor Dieng was described by many, including among the FA officials, as a true friend of football in the country. After his death, the team would like to win to honor his memory.
Pressure on local players
The national team of Senegal is formed by two large groups – local players and players with dual nationality. The most famous players in the first group are Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyaté. They all were born and raised in Senegal and began in local academies. On the other hand, the second group includes players such as Kalidou Koulibaly and Youssouf Sabaly, who grew up in France. While Koulibaly and Sabaly are key players for the national team, the expectations from them are a bit lower than the local players. Mane and his teammates are expected to give more on the field, as they are perceived as the ones who truly feel and know the meaning of winning the final for Senegalese supporters. According to Bah, people in Senegal were ecstatic after the semifinal in front of Kouyate’s house in Dakar and in Sedhiou, the small village where Mane grew up and where his family lives. With the pressure on them, they are the ones expected to lead the team to glory.
2002 vs. 2019 –Making history under the shadow of the golden generation
The 2002 generation is perceived by many in Senegal as the first love. Their World Cup and Africa Cup campaigns in 2002 will be remembered forever, and they inspired a whole nation. However, people in Senegal start to have enough of remembering only the 2002 generation, and they feel the 2019 one can over achieve them and finally bring joy to the country. Their coach is Aliou Cisse, who also captained the team in 2002. It is a big deal, and it perceived as a chance for Senegalese and even African football to define itself without the need for “white” coaches. “Cisse will have to look to people of Senegal in their eyes after the team comes back,” says Bah. “He is from here so of course he feels much more responsible for the result.” Cisse is seen as the link between the first love and the current team. This team might not be as exciting as in 2002 but can finally bring Senegal the title they are desperate and eager to achieve.