Senegal were no more than beach soccer rookies one week ago, but today they are qualifiers for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2007.
The west African came from nowhere in their debut international beach soccer tournament to finish a narrow second behind Nigeria in the African qualifying competition which finished in Durban on Sunday.
Nigeria will go to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup for the second successive year, but they only qualified thanks to an extra time win over hosts South Africa in Saturday's second semi-final.
Led by the goal scoring prowess and remarkable fitness of Isiaka Olawale, Nigeria started the tournament on the best possible footing, beating Cameroon in a re-match of the 2006 final.
The 'Beach Eagles' extracted revenge in brutal fashion with an emphatic 5-0 win, after which Cameroon crumbled, as they slipped to three consecutive defeats to ensure an early ticket home. The demise of the 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup finalists surprised many , notably after Cameroon's impressive showing in Rio last year.
The semi-final tie against South Africa, known as 'Beach Bafana', proved a lot closer than expected for the Eagles, for whom Gabriel Agu grabbed their extra time winner after the initial three periods had ended in a 6-6 draw.
Agu then netted five of the six goals as Nigeria met Senegal again in Sunday's final in front of a packed house, coming from 3-0 down to win 6-5. Migrants from Nigeria and Senegal who live in Durban kept up the volume of support and were passionate throughout the four days of competition.
Much traveled striker Mamadou Diallo scored three for Senegal in the final and looks likely to cap a remarkable professional career with an appearance at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Brazil.
Côte d'Ivoire edged out South Africa 2-0 in the match for thirds place, while in the match for fifth place, Egypt made the most of their chances to finish 8-2 winners over the Cape Verde Islands.
Like Senegal, the Cape Verde Islands and Mozambique were also
making their debuts at the tournament. The Cape Verdians were
impressive and unlucky to lose in closely contested group matches
with Côte d'Ivoire and South Africa. Mozambique lost all three
of their group matches but will surely be back next year.
The tricky Frederik Aka from Côte d'Ivoire was named as the Player of the Tournament, with Agu and Isiako Olawale (both with 14 goals) sharing the top scorer award. Seyni Ndiaye (Senegal) was named as the best goalkeeper.