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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Senegal's French legion
Ferdinand Coly
Coly scarcely knows the town where he was born

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"I am the most French of the Senegalese, and the most Senegalese of the French."

The words come from Senegal's first President, the poet Leopold Sedar Senghor, but could have been uttered by many of the Senegal squad that will take on France in the opening World Cup game on 31 May.

It has been widely publicised that 21 of the 23 players in Bruno Metsu's squad are contracted to French clubs, compared to the paltry five home-based footballers on the France list.

"It is a bit like the French league playing against the expatriated French," is how Senegal's French coach Metsu sums up the game that pits his charges against his homeland.

El Hadj Diouf
Diouf: "We're like a band of brothers"
Quite apart from the nationality of their employers, what is less well known is just how culturally French many of the Senegalese internationals are.

Of the 23 Lions who packed their bags and set off for South Korea last week, 18 arrived in France before they turned 20. Many came significantly earlier.

One such player is Ferdinand Coly. The defender had moved to France by the age of seven and for many years rejected a Senegal call-up.

At home - in France - Coly eats French food, and he admits to "scarcely knowing" Mermoz, the Dakar neighbourhood where he was born and spent his early years.

In fact, Coly had not been back to Senegal until a holiday he took there at the age of 26 in 2000. Once on Senegalese soil he was quickly persuaded to pull on the shirt of the land of his birth.

Lamine Diatta
Diatta has been in France since he was one
Fellow defender Lamine Diatta is another who is culturally at least as French as he is African.

Diatta has been in France since the age of one, and has no memories of his first few months under the tropical sun.

"Yeah, I was definitely more French than Senegalese," said Diatta.

"But now I play for Senegal I am 100% Senegalese!"

The Senegalese international with the closest ties to France is undoubtedly Sylvain Ndiaye, however.

The Lille midfielder only qualifies for the Lions because of a Senegalese grandfather. He had never even visited the land he now represents before he pulled on the shirt with the Lion's head motif.

According to El Hadj Diouf, the Senegalese squad is "a band of brothers."

With many more brothers in the France team - not least the Senegal-born Patrick Vieira - the World Cup's opening game is going to be a family affair.

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GROUP A
  P GD PTS
DENMARK 3 +3 7
SENEGAL 3 +1 5
URUGUAY 3 -1 2
FRANCE 3 -3 1




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