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Page last updated at 13:18 GMT, Saturday, 11 October 2008 14:18 UK

Senegal fan put up by hero Fadiga

By Piers Edwards
BBC Sport, Dakar

Samba Gningue with a poster of his hero Khalilou Fadiga
Gningue battled intense heat on his long cycle to reach Dakar
A fan who cycled 465km across Senegal to meet his hero, footballer Khalilou Fadiga, has been rewarded by being accommodated in the national team's hotel.

Samba Gningue left Tambacounda, his home in eastern Senegal, seven days ago with little more than US$40, his bike and a yearning to meet a man making his international return after a three-year absence for a make-or-break game on Saturday.

"I actually got the idea of pedalling from 'Tamba' to Dakar from Fadiga himself," 28-year-old Gningue said.

"He recently said that if he had to cycle from his home in Belgium to Senegal to make it back into the national side, he would."

Gningue - who travelled up to 50km a day, battling intense heat and appalling road conditions - finally reached the Senegalese team hotel in Dakar late on Thursday.

As he met Fadiga, who plays for Germinal Beerschot in Belgium, the 33-year-old footballer was so moved by his journey that he burst into tears.

The midfielder, a key figure in Senegal's successful 2002 World Cup campaign, elected to put Gningue up in the five-star Meridien Hotel.

He rescued me on my arrival because I was extremely tired. But I am now resting and eating very well here

Samba Gningue
He also provided him with a match ticket for the crunch 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations tie against neighbours The Gambia.

"This has really surprised me and I love 'Khali' anyway, he is my hero because he is always so proud to play for Senegal," Gningue, the president of Tambacouna's Fadiga Fan Club, explained.

"He rescued me on my arrival because I was extremely tired. But I am now resting and eating very well here.

"He really is an extremely kind and attentive man."

Gningue, who had just eight dollars left after his journey, received plenty of assistance from his compatriots on his long voyage.

"When I set out from Tambacounda, many people told me I was mad," the visibly-exhausted cyclist explained.

Khalilou Fadiga
Fadiga returns after a three-year absence from the national side
"But when people in the villages I passed through saw me in my Fadiga shirt and learnt I was doing the journey for him, I received lots of help.

"I want to thank all the Senegalese I met en route because they were very hospitable with their food and lodgings - and gave me enormous encouragement."

The fan, who works in a cotton factory in his home town, spent nights in total strangers' homes as he made his six-day journey.

"I don't know what to say because I am shocked and it's hard to find the words," Fadiga said in reaction to the fan's feat.

"But this can only give us more courage and encouragement as we play this key game."

"I thank Samba and want to thank the whole town of Tambacounda for the support they have given him."

"The important thing is that he is here safely."

Senegal must beat The Gambia in their final Group 6 qualifier if they are to have any chance of reaching next year's final round of African qualifying.

see also
Senegal snub for Niang, Diawara
03 Oct 08 |  African
Dowie fearful over Fadiga future
15 Apr 07 |  Coventry

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