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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Senegal in fever over World Cup debut
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade - wearing the national jersey - with the team in 2001
President Wade cheered the team in person
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By Chris Simpson
In Dakar
Senegal may be the only African football team travelling to the World Cup with no experience of the tournament - but they have high hopes.

The "Lions of Teranga", as they are known, have already been voted Africa's team of the year.

France is the country that colonised us - God willing, we will beat them

Souleman Goliathe, fan
The national squad is hugely popular in Senegal, with large crowds turning out to see the players both on and off the pitch.

And the supporters who have cheered Senegal on to their first-ever World Cup now expect great things from the team.

Historic clash

Souleman Soldi Goliathe - a fan who goes to matches and training sessions festooned in the national colours of red, green and yellow - says the whole country will be watching the World Cup opener against France on 31 May.

Senegal's fans enjoying a World Cup qualifier
The team can count on the fans
And he is confident their team can beat the world champions.

"Senegal-France is an historic match," Souleman says. "Our matches against Denmark and Uruguay are important, but France is the one that really matters.

"This is the European country that colonised us. And, God willing, we will beat them".

Senegal's coach, Bruno Metsu, is a Frenchman and most of the players earn their living in France.

Role model

The Lions' star striker El-Hadji Diouf has just finished second in the French league with Racing Lens.

Star striker El-Hadji Diouf
Diouf is a national hero
At just 21, he's the African player of the year - and arguably the most popular man in Senegal.

He says he can cope with the adulation, but is aware of the responsibilities that come with it.

"It's like being the leader of a country," Diouf says.

"That means I have to set an example for young people here and all over the world".

Missing home

The Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour is one of the contributors to the special World Cup tribute record, "Allez les Lions".

Senegal's singing sensation Youssou Ndour
'I love this team' - Youssou N'dour
As one of the team's biggest fans, he often invites the squad down to his club in Dakar.

N'Dour says that coming to his place helps the players keep in touch with their roots:

"When they come back, they want to come to the club - for the dancing, the atmosphere and they really want to say: 'We love this country'. You know, when you go far, you just think about home."

Big business

Football has inevitably become a money-spinner in Senegal, with the national team signed up for numerous merchandising deals and advertising contracts.

A player like Diouf will make a signal with his eyes and the drummers will speed up the rhythm

Pape Sene
Pape Massata Diack heads the South Africa-based sports company, Pamodzi, which takes care of the marketing of the Lions of Teranga.

He says the commercial opportunities must be grabbed with both hands.

"Every football association in England, the French federation, the Japanese football federation, cannot afford to miss an opportunity of catching corporate sponsors and we're going the same route," Mr Diack says.

The money being made now should, in principle, go back into the Senegalese game, helping to strengthen youth programmes, renovate run-down stadiums and improve training facilities.

Lion share

But the Lions' supporters would also like to see some of the money.

Diouf jersey on sale
A hot item in a Dakar market
Pape Sene is a professional drummer.

His late father, Thialane Sene, was Senegal's leading football supporter and Pape and his brothers and sisters have kept the tradition going, following the team wherever they can.

Pape says the drumming has a special role.

"A player like El Hadj Diouf will make a signal with his eyes and the drummers will speed up the rhythm," he says. "There is a special 'Lions' beat which gives the team inspiration, pushing them on towards victory."

More than anything, Pape Sene wants to be with the team in South Korea and Japan.

But he can't afford to go there himself - and he's waiting to see if the Senegalese Football Federation or some other benefactor will pay for the trip.

Senegal is one of the poorest of the World Cup qualifiers and does not have the means to fly thousands of supporters to the east.

For many Senegalese, this is one of the most exciting events in their country's history. And they desperately want to be part of it.

See also:

25 Jan 02 | World Football
Pride of Lions
23 Jan 02 | Cup of Nations
Senegal's famous fan
21 Jul 01 | Africa
Senegal celebrates Cup heroics
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