Moussa Konate is having the time of his life. Still only 19, the Senegalese striker has scored all three of his country’s goals in their first two games at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. Not only that, but thanks to both his and his team’s spirited performances, many fans have adopted the underdogs as their own, cheering them on frenetically in the stands. Carried along by a wave of euphoria and clearly enjoying themselves, anything seems possible for coach Abdoukarime Diouf's protégés at London 2012.
“We’re a young team. It’s important for us feel good and to just laugh a lot together,” Konate told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “I’m unbelievably happy and proud to have started the way I have in this competition. It’s mainly down to the fact that I feel the trust of my team-mates and my coach. He’s shaped us both as footballers and as people. He’s been like a father to us for a long time.”
You can sense the depth of feeling in the young Maccabi Haifa forward's words. In the Senegal team there are no egos, only a passionate collective intent on showing the world what can be achieved with endless enthusiasm and joy. “None of us would be here without coach Diouf. We know that. For my part, I want to pay him back with my goals. I want to thank him and these terrific fans by scoring,” said Konate.
Following a 1-1 draw in their opening game against hosts Great Britain, Senegal managed a surprising 2-0 victory over a more fancied Uruguay side despite playing with a man less for two thirds of the match. “The crowd at Wembley gave us an unbelievable lift in the last hour," added Konate, who is as relaxed and thoughtful off the pitch as he is explosive on it. "It was such an emotional experience. With that result behind us and the fantastic spirit in our team, I believe that anything is possible for us here.”
It is precisely that mixture of restraint and enthusiasm that characterises this Senegalese Olympic team. Their versatility in attack coupled with no-nonsense defending make them an extremely awkward opponent. When Konate’s pace, agility and eye for goal are factored in, it is easy to see why the Teranga Lions are enjoying such success at London 2012.
On Wednesday the tournament debutants face their next challenge. A draw against United Arab Emirates in Coventry would be enough to guarantee them their aim of a quarter-final place. They will have fond memories of the city, having secured their Olympic participation there in a play-off against Oman back in April. In reaching the knockout rounds, they would be following in the footsteps of two of their continent’s predecessors, who likewise delighted the world with their sheer joy at playing the game. In 1996 Nigeria won gold in Atlanta, a feat repeated by Cameroon four years later in Sydney.
Such an achievement is still a long way away for Konate and Co. Yet if medals were awarded for goal celebrations then they would already be guaranteed gold. "Whenever I score I just want to celebrate with a Djembe dance. It's part of our culture and a greeting to our countrymen back home," the grinning forward told FIFA.com, evidently keen on continuing his London 2012 success story.