6 - 12 June 2002
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Lions roar, eagles fail to soarSenegal caused one of the biggest upsets in soccer history while Nigeria flunked its first test. Alaa Shahine reports on Africa's first week in the World Cup
Prior to the start of the 2002 World Cup finals, football writers picked just Cameroon to shine from Africa, predicting that the other four continent representatives would face early elimination and possibly humiliating defeats.
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From the top clockwise: Papa Diop of Senegal beats French players to the ball to score in the opening game. A shot by Germany's Jancker whistles past the outstretched leg of Saudi goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Daiya. Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta, at the far end of the post, heads home against Nigeria
After the first round, the predictions have been proved wrong, courtesy of a giant-killing performance by the Lions of Senegal and a gutsy display by South Africa's Bafana Bafana.
An excellent show by World Cup debutantes Senegal saw them shock a Zidane-less France with a 1-0 victory in the tournament's opening match, an achievement similar to Cameroon's historic 1- 0 victory over Diego Maradona's Argentina in the 1990 opener in Italy.
Senegal's goal came when the 2001 African Player of the Year El Hadji Diouf skipped past the ponderous Frank Leboeuf on the left and crossed. Emmanuel Petit got to the centre first, but only succeeded in hitting his clearance into goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. Papa Diop, who had fallen in the melee, scooped home, sparking a Senegal jig around the scorer's shirt.
The French were missing the inspirational presence of key midfielder Zineddin Zidane who tore a muscle in the team's last friendly match against co-hosts South Korea five days before the championship.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Senegal's French coach Bruno Metsu said his team's victory deserved to be ranked among the greatest moments in soccer history. "It is the biggest moment ever for our team and a big moment for the World Cup," he said.
"We had some luck today, but we are very, very happy with this," Metsu said. "It's like a dream -- not a miracle though."
The Frenchman, however, is concerned that his side keep their minds on the job in hand. "We have completed one step but there are two games to come," he said. "We have to confirm this result and again play at this level against Denmark and Uruguay."
Metsu spent much of his career trawling through the backwaters of French football, although he did have a brief spell with Anderlecht, and he believes this success should provide inspiration for other coaches who are yet to make it at the top level.
"This is a big encouragement for all coaches who like me have had difficulties in their career," he said.
Striker Diouf, who was voted man-of-the-match, said Senegal's victory was a victory for Africa. "The whole of Africa will be celebrating this result," he said. "I think that if we carry on like this, we have a good chance of progressing."
Indeed, the incredible victory spurred waves of celebrations across the continent. Reports from Dakar to Nairobi carried the story of one of the biggest footballing upsets ever and proclaimed it had finally given Africa some power in a sport dominated by Europe and South America.
Blared Johannesburg's Saturday Star: "We did it for Africa." The paper carried another headline: "Go Africa!" and insisted: "Africa has wiped away some of the smugness of the elite in world football."
In Kenya, Nairobi's Daily Nation said: "The joy in Kenya is for Senegal. The victory was for us."
In Dakar, Le Soleil insisted that Senegal had earned the right to be placed alongside the Roger Milla-lead Cameroon side who reached the quarter-finals of Italia 1990.
In this World Cup, though, Cameroon were unable to repeat their successful start in 1990, drawing 1-1 against the Republic of Ireland despite a first-half lead through striker Patrick Mboma.
Samuel Eto'o was the architect of the 39th minute goal when he cut in from the right flank, danced past Irish defender Ian Haart before sending an inch-perfect cross to Mboma who slotted home with ease.
Ireland were missing the services of team skipper and playmaker Roy Keane who was sent home prior to the beginning of the tournament after a bust-up with coach Mic Macarthy, but their teammates showed no ill-effects as they had the upper hand in the second half and levelled the score through Matt Holland's sublime shot.
Cameroon's German coach, Winfried Schafer, was glad to come away with a point from his side's opening World Cup fixture after the brave Irish second-half comeback. "They put us under a lot of pressure and we must be satisfied with the draw," said the German.
Eto'o agreed. "In the first half we played very well but in the second it all went wrong," the Real Mallorca striker told the BBC.
But Cameroon's quest to restore their morale does not seem to be difficult as they face an easy task against Saudi Arabia who suffered a humiliating 8-0 defeat against Germany.
The drubbing was the fourth biggest in World Cup history, just behind two demolition jobs from Hungary and one by Yugoslavia. It also surpassed Germany's 6-0 thrashing of Mexico in the 1978 finals.
Saudi newspapers angrily rounded on the national coach and players after the disgrace. "It's a scandal," read a huge headline on the front page of the special World Cup supplement of Al-Youm.
"No defence, no midfield, no attack ... not even goalkeeping," read another headline in the newspaper after the debacle in Sapporo on Saturday.
Al-Riyadiyah sports daily described the defeat as a "giant earthquake that tarnished the 'Green's' reputation". It said the defeat at the country's third successive tournament turned "Saudi's World Cup dream into a nightmare".
But commentator Ahmad Deyab wrote in the same daily that it was a wake-up call. "Perhaps we badly needed this harsh defeat by the Germans to wake up from our cozy dreams and deal with matters with a great sense of logic, away from extreme passion," Deyab said.
For Al-Watan it was not shameful for Saudi Arabia to be beaten at the hands of triple World Cup winners Germany. "But what is not realistic, is unacceptable and shameful is the way we performed and the level of our game," it said.
The daily put the blame squarely on coach Nasser Al-Johar "who played without a plan" and the players who did not play at all.
South Africa, Africa's third representative in the tournament, did play -- albeit belatedly -- to snatch a last-gasp 2-2 against Paraguay.
Goals from Francisco Arce and Roque Santa Cruz had given Paraguay a deserved 2-0 lead although South Africa put up a fight after Estanislao Struway scored an own goal with 25 minutes remaining, before Manchester United striker Quinton Fortune hit the equaliser in the last minute through a penalty kick.
South Africa coach Jomo Sono paid tribute to his team's attitude in fighting back to take something from the game. "All credit to the lads because they kept working hard and it's got to be a good sign when you come back from two goals down," he argued.
"I'm happy we didn't lose and our confidence is up. We knew if we put pressure on them they'd lose energy towards the end and that's what happened.
"It was a game of two halves. They controlled the first and in the second we took over," he added.
While Senegal, Cameroon and South Africa all returned home satisfied after their opening match scores, Nigeria were left to rue the luck of the draw that placed them with World Cup hot favourites Argentina in their first fixture. The match saw the South American side have the upper hand right from the start and ended with a much-deserved 1-0 victory through star striker Gabriel Batistuta.
Argentina coach Marselo Bielsa favoured Batistuta to Lazio attacker and the team's top marksman in the South American qualifiers, Hernan Crespo, and the veteran striker, 33, rewarded his coach by heading home Juan Sebastian Veron's corner kick in the second half.
It was the first time the Nigerian Super Eagles had failed to score against Argentina. In the 1994 World Cup finals and in the final of the 1996 Olympic Games, Nigeria hit four times on both occasions.
The second match was the one to remember when the Nigerians beat Argentina 3-2 to clinch the gold medal in Atlanta.
The Super Eagles, however, had nothing of their attacking flair this time and their confusion was compounded with an early injury to team star Nwanki Kanu who limped off after the break.
Nigeria face a must-win situation in their second match against Sweden tomorrow before facing England in their final group match.
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