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Excitement in Senegal for Soccer Team - 2002-06-22

People in Senegal are preparing for the World Cup quarterfinal match Saturday, in which the west African team will meet Turkey. It is only the second time in history that an African team has made it to the quarterfinals.

From the airport in the outskirts of the Senegalese capital to the city's center, the streets are decorated with Senegal's green, yellow, and red flag. Some older residents say they have not seen such an explosion of patriotism since Senegal got its independence from France in 1960.

In Dakar's busy Medina district, tailor Lamin Sey says he has set aside his normal work of sewing suits and dresses and has, for the past three weeks, been making banners, flags, and hats for fans of the Senegalese team. A proud fan of his national team, he says his dreams started becoming true when Senegal beat France in the first World Cup match on May 31.

"It is a success for all Senegalese. It is a truly formidable moment that everyone has been waiting for years. Everyone is proud of the Senegalese team right now. Everyone is wearing the national colors," Mr. Sey said. "The first Senegalese flag I sold was to a French national. He was buying it for a Senegalese friend of his in France. That was before the first match. I told him we would win. He said I was dreaming."

Senegal is the only African team to make it into the quarterfinals of this year's World Cup. It is the second African team to go so far in the history of the event. Until now, only Cameroon had made to the quarterfinals, in 1990.

In the restaurants and bars of Dakar, the anticipation about Saturday's match was building on Friday, with patrons placing bets on who will win. Elhadji Malick Sy, a government worker, says that no matter the outcome, he will see it as a victory for Senegal and for Africa.

"The Senegalese team arrived at the World Cup as outsiders. Now, they have showed that success in football is not anyone's monopoly," he said. "It is an extraordinary opportunity for us to tell the world that Africa and Senegal can compete in sport and in all areas. He says even if Senegal loses, it will be a success for us because our team will have made itself known. Having come this far is already a victory for us."

Crews on Friday were busy preparing a giant screen where Saturday's match will be shown at a seaside esplanade that was built in honor of the national team.

President Abdoulaye Wade, on a visit to France, was to fly home in time to watch the Senegal-Turkey match. Speaking in Paris, the Senegalese leader placed his bet, saying he believed his country's team was on its way to glory.