Senegal's head coach has reflected on his team's remarkable performance in its first appearance in the World Cup football finals.
Frenchman Bruno Metsu guided Senegal to the World Cup quarterfinals, where the team lost to Turkey Saturday 1-0 in extra time in Osaka, Japan.
"The Lions of Teranga" from Senegal are only the second African team in history to reach the World Cup quarterfinals. 12 years ago in Italy, another pride of lions, "The Indomitable Lions" of Cameroon, also made it to the last eight.
Coach Metsu selected virtually his entire team from players who compete professionally in France. That knowledge of the French system may have been beneficial on May 31 in Seoul, where Senegal shocked defending champion France 1-0 in the World Cup's opening match. After that impressive start, Senegal played to draws with Denmark (1-1) and Uruguay (3-3), and beat Sweden in extra time (2-1), before losing to Turkey.
Speaking after the loss to the Turks, Coach Metsu said one of his main memories of the World Cup will be the unity displayed by his squad. "It's our collective spirit, our sense of togetherness," he said. "And I'm very, very proud that a small country like Senegal can come to the World Cup and really rock the boat among the hierarchy of world football."
The hierarchy of world football definitely took notice of the Senegalese during the World Cup. Several of the team's best players, including 2001 African Player of the Year El Hadji Diouf, are expected to receive new contract offers from top European clubs.
Earlier this year in Mali, El Hadji Diouf showcased his skills at the African Cup of Nations, the continent's premier football tournament. The Senegalese lost in the final to Cameroon on penalty kicks (3-2). According to coach Metsu, Senegal will now take a break from the World Cup excitement and focus on winning its first African Cup of Nations championship in Tunisia in 2004. "We've had an exceptional adventure here at the World Cup," he said. "But our next objective will be to capture the African Cup of Nations. First of all, we're going to take some time to rest, to take some holidays. It's almost 50 days that we've been together [for the World Cup], and now it's come to an end."
While the World Cup has come to an end for Senegal, the team's performance in its inaugural appearance will not be forgotten. Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade says the team made his country and all of Africa proud. And coach Bruno Metsu says Senegal will inspire the development of football across Africa, where the sport is already regarded as the most popular on the continent.