Senegal will be one of the first-timers at the Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. After topping their group at the African U-23 Championships they found the going much more difficult in the knockout stages, losing to Gabon in the semi-finals and then missing out on direct qualification after a 2-0 defeat to Egypt in the play-off match. The Lionceaux were given another chance in April's play-off against Oman and this time they were equal to the task as Ibrahima Balde and Abdoulaye Sane gave the West Africans a 2-0 win in Coventry against Oman.
The team in London will have changed considerably since the African U-23 Championships in Morocco as several players who would have made the Senegal squad for that tournament were not allowed to participate by their European clubs. "We will have a good blend of local and foreign-based players," explained Karim Sega Diouf, who replaced Abdoulaye Sarr as coach after Sarr, who also acted as an assistant for the senior side, was dismissed following the unsuccessful CAF Africa Cup of Nations campaign earlier in the year. A friendly 2-1 defeat in March against Mexico in San Francisco saw a team comprised mainly of local players. It seems likely, though, that the squad in London will have a greater influence of European-based professionals, based in France, Portugal and elsewhere. “Playing at the Olympic Games would be a very special and important event for my career as well as for my country as Senegal have always failed to qualify before now”, said 22-year-old Norway-based Stephane Badji, who received a first call-up for the senior side against South Africa in February.
Senegal are something of promising outsiders at the Olympics. That perspective, of course, does not prevent Lionceaux taking things very seriously. “We are working hard to improve the team. Apart from the technical and tactical aspects, the most important thing that has to be 100 per cent if we want to have success at the Olympics is mental strength and the ability to keep focused”, said deputy coach Aliou Cisse, who was captain for the Lions of Teranga when they made the quarter-finals at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. Likewise, the event should provide needed tournament expertise for the side. “Playing at the Olympics will be a terrific experience as the road to London has been very long”, said defender Abdoulaye Ba.
Facts and figures
This is Senegal’s first appearance at the Olympic Games.
Senegal lost their opening qualifier to Algeria, but then recovered to be considered one of the tournament favourites with defeats of Nigeria and Morocco, 2-1 and 1-0 respectively. With momentum gained from topping the table ahead of the Moroccan hosts, Senegal were surprised by Gabon in the semi-final 1-0 and lost the play-off for third place against Egypt 2-0.
The numbers game
1 - The number of goals scored by a Senegal striker at the CAF U-23 finals. Senegal found the net only three times in their five matches with the only tally by a striker scored by Abdoulaye Sane against Nigeria. Kalidou Yero, who usually plays up front for the side, was not released by his Portuguese club Gil Vicente for the event.