It ended too soon. Many in Senegal were hoping to see their team sojourn a little bit longer far away in Russia before returning home. But the party was called off at a time when appetite had been whetted, with shoes tightly buckled for more dance.
The Teranga Lions were knocked out of the ongoing FIFA World Cup on Thursday on fair play ranking, after losing to Colombia 1-0 in their final group game.
Locals were expecting a repeat of the 2002 feat when their dear team reached the quarterfinals in Korea / Japan, after pulling off a shock by defeating then defending champions France in their opening game.
Although a 2-1 win over Poland raised hope for a bright campaign at the Mundial, the 2-2 draw against Japan in their second game bared some defensive frailties that pundits back home in Dakar predicted could hurt the team in subsequent encounters.
It did happen and in the hardest way. Senegal are out of the 2018 World Cup. Who is to blame?
“The first mistake we as Senegalese made was to compare this current team to that of 2002. They are never the same. The former generation was far better than this. We got it all wrong from the beginning by pinning high hopes on this team,” Malick Ba, sports analyst at state radio RTS told ACLsports.
“For football pundit like us we try to understand what went wrong but those in the streets won’t want to hear that. They placed their body and soul on the team. Some even took vacation in order to see the team play. Some left their farms to come to localities with electricity to watch the tournament on TV.
“When the Lions were eliminated on Thursday, it was like a national day of mourning. Nobody wanted to talk to their neigbhour. The anger, frustration and blame were visible on faces.
“Don’t forget, football is one of the things that unite people in this country, even more than wrestling. And when such a big shock happens the entire nation is affected.”
Senegal’s Aliou Cisse, who was the youngest coach at the World Cup, brought along a number of young players as well to the tournament and believes the team could get better if they play together for a long period of time.
As the Russian debacle is being digested by many in Senegal, some others have resolved to look ahead, hoping for a better future.
“Such is the life of a sportsman. You win some, you lose some. Now, I think we have to start preparing for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations which is just few months away. The qualifiers resume in September,” Dieng Idriss, a Dakar-based biology teacher said.
“People are frustrated, but they will soon understand that Senegal did very well in Russia. They lost only one game. The team can make a good statement at the upcoming Afcon.”
Cisse’s future at the helm of the team is yet to be clarified. However, many believe he would be allowed to continue the ‘good work’, amid calls for an experienced foreign coach.
“It would be a wrong decision to replace Cisse with a white coach. He did a very good job and people love him here. Fans want him to continue. The players respect him and he is working with some of his former team mates, which is very good for Senegal,” Mariame Traore, a businesswoman from Thies, near Dakar, said.
The team did not return home in its entirety like in 2002, as neither players nor fans wanted any fanfare reception when nobody appears to be happy with anything.