There can be little doubt that striker Pape Koukpaki is the star asset of Senegalese beach soccer. In his two previous appearances at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup – Rio de Janeiro 2007 and Marseille 2008 – the target man scored no fewer than 15 goals in six games, more than any other African player has managed in the history of the competition.
Despite those impressive statistics, the tall Koukpaki, who plays for US Ouakam in the Senegalese first division, sees himself as just another cog in the machine that makes the African champions tick. “Obviously I’m happy with those figures because my job in this team is to score goals,” the soft-spoken goalgetter told FIFA.com. “But that’s what it is: a job. And it’s just one of several jobs that need to be carried out properly for the team to be successful.”
Discussing his frontline shortly after Senegal had completed their first training session at the Stadio del Mare in Ravenna, coach Amadou Diop outlined what he expects from Koukpaki and his fellow strikers: “Koukpaki is our main goal threat and that’s what I look to him for: to score goals.
“But it goes without saying that there’s a lot more to it than that,” he continued. “Normally it’s the players who score the goals who get the individual awards, but both he and the rest of the team know that it’s the team that counts here. And on top of that, in the qualifiers, Babacar Fall showed that we can also rely on him."
The tandem formed by Koukpaki and Fall proved to be a potent one at the African qualifying competition, held in Casablanca in June. In the four games they played en route to the continental title, the Senegalese scored 23 goals in all, 16 of them coming from their strike duo, who with eight goals apiece were the tournament’s joint top scorers.
With such firepower up front, the Lions of Teranga appear to have what it takes to convert their undoubted potential into results at the highest level. Diop is certainly hoping that is the case at Ravenna 2011: “Everyone agrees that Senegal are a tough team to face, but the fact remains that we’ve never gone any farther than the quarter-finals.”
The African champions’ group-phase record at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup is virtually flawless, with five wins out of six. Success has proved elusive for them, however, with France knocking them out in the last eight in 2007 and two group victories in 2008 leaving them just short of a place in the knockout rounds.
As far as coach Diop is concerned, the time has come to chart new territory: “We are the continental champions, these are our third world finals, and our objective is very clear: to reach the last four. No other African team has ever achieved that, either on grass or on sand, but I think our time has come.”