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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK

Senegal return to heroes' welcome

By Chris Simpson
BBC Sport Online in Dakar

The Senegal national team have returned home as heroes from the World Cup after reaching the quarter-finals.

Their Air France plane, flying the national flag from the cockpit, flew in to be greeted by President Abdoulaye Wade and his Prime Minister, Mame Madior Boye.

Government ministers and opposition leaders waited in line to shake hands with the homecoming heroes.

Security had been kept tight until the team's arrival. Fans had started arriving at the airport from before midday, but most were kept well away from the main terminal.

" We have a great team and it's as simple as that "
Aliou Cisse

But as the players stepped down onto the tarmac, the rush began for interviews and autographs. Most in demand were strikers El Hadj Diouf and midfield players Salif Diao and Khalilou Fadiga.

Exceptional event

"We are a young team, we lost to a more experienced side, there is everything still to look forward to", said Fadiga, before being whisked away onto an open-topped military truck.

"We did what we could and I don't think there are any regrets", Diouf added.

"If someone had said before we left we'd make the quarter-finals, we would have signed up for that like a shot. Or for the last 16, it would have been the same thing.

"Now we have to keep our heads on our shoulders".

The players set off in a convoy of trucks, fans decked out in red, green and yellow, chasing after them.

The destination was the presidential palace, where thousands had already assembled, packing the surrounding streets.

Addressing the crowds outside the presidential palace, President Wade talked of the team's arrival as "an exceptional event in the history of our country".

"Everyone will remember this," Wade continued.

"But the adventure must not stop here. We can go even further, further, further... right until the day we bring the World Cup home. Long live the lions, long live Senegal, long live Africa".

Great team

In recent days, the Senegalese media had been sharply critical of Senegal's performance against Turkey, blaming coach Bruno Metsu for fielding players against Turkey who were simply too tired.

But taking a breather outside the palace, Abdou Cissť said the criticism was misplaced.

"I am not going to start in on Metsu. We have a great team and it's as simple as that. I spent hours at the airport today and I have no regrets".

His friend Saliou Sene agreed.

"It's quite clear we will do better next time", he said.

"You will find a lot of young players who saw us lose to an inferior team. They won't forget that and will really want to win".

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