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Senegalese President, Fans Proud of National Soccer Team - 2002-06-22

Senegal's loss to Turkey in the World Cup quarterfinals Saturday caused disappointment across much of Africa. But in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, many people found reason to celebrate.

Hundreds took to the streets after the defeat, singing, blowing horns, waving Senegalese flags. A large group gathered outside the Presidential Palace in Dakar, where Senegal's leader, Abdoulaye Wade, congratulated the national team.

Speaking to reporters outside the palace gates, the president said the Senegalese players have made their country and the whole of Africa proud. "They made it all the way to quarterfinals," Mr. Wade said. "I think that that is extraordinary. They have defended Africa. We must celebrate today because they have brought honor to Africa, and I consider that a victory."

Senegal was the sole African team to make it to the quarterfinals this year, and only the second team from the continent to do so in the history of the tournament.

In Dakar's central Medina district, the family of one of the Senegalese players, Papa Bouba Diop, Number 19, gathered to watch the match. His 94-year-old grandmother, Hadja Bineta Fall, could not contain her excitement as she sat in front of a television set, watching her grandson play.

Senegal's advance to the quarterfinals, Mrs. Fall said, was a historic moment that she had been praying for.

After the match, Mr. Diop's uncle, Sega Basse Camara, was of course disappointed by the defeat. But like many Senegalese, he expressed a degree of satisfaction. He said he already knows what he is going to tell his nephew and the other team members when they return.

He said, "I will tell them bravo because they have truly given us some moments of happiness and pride. Today, children, older people, women, everyone is talking about our national team. As you can see people have been out cleaning the streets of the neighborhood, expressing their pride."

Some revelers on the streets of Dakar Saturday evening said what success the Senegalese team did achieve in the cup gave them some confidence that an African team may make it past the quarterfinals the next time around.

Observers here say that while the Senegalese team will not bring home the World Cup this time, its victories in the tournament did at least get people's minds off some of the country's most pressing problems: grinding poverty, a dispute over farm subsidies, a rising crime rate, and a festering rebellion in the southern Cassamance region that has gone for nearly 20 years.