Heading to a World Cup it is normal to receive the best wishes of friends, family and indeed the sporting fraternity. Senegal though have arrived at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013 buoyed by the support of their nation’s President.
Senegal President Macky Sall hailed the team, who earlier this year claimed the latest in a string of African championships in qualifying for Tahiti 2013, as worthy representatives both in terms of talent and national pride. “These encouraging results... attest the athletes' quality and also their commitment to serve the nation,” stated the President of the west African nation. “I exclaim our gratitude for all these worthy ambassadors.”
Free-scoring pivot Pape Koukpaki, himself a veritable legend of Senegalese beach football, is happy to echo his President’s views, saying his side are proud representatives of their nation and the Mother Continent. “We received a message from the Senegalese President saying everybody is behind the team,” Koukpaki told FIFA.com with obvious pride. “The nation is hoping we can go far in the competition. We represent Senegal and all of Africa.”
Aiming high for glory
Senegal are set to feature in their fourth FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, and their track-record suggests they are not far from making a significant impression on the world stage. They have twice made the quarter-finals and it took a penalty shoot-out to end their campaign two years ago in Ravenna.
Their challenge, however, is a significant one grouped as they alongside the fast-developing Ukraine, Asian kings Iran and four-time world champions Brazil. Their team unity, though, was clear to anyone witnessing their penultimate training session in Papeete ahead of Wednesday’s opener against the European representatives. The team’s warm-down was as much a mixture of group singing and swaying as it was a sporting exercise. The colourful display aside there is an undoubted steely determination about the Senegalese as evidenced by Koukpaki’s ambitions for the fortnight ahead.
“We are not here for tourism,” he said. “We want to play in the final, and why not win the cup. We have the team that can play on that stage. We have worked hard since the African qualifiers.”
A veteran of Senegal's three previous campaigns, the 29-year-old Koukpaki top-scored for his team during African qualifiers scoring nine goals. He also has a proven track-record on the biggest stage of all hitting the net a remarkable 21 times across nine matches.
Coach Amadou Diop, whose own playing career included two FIFA World Cup™ campaigns, described Koukpaki as a “team leader”, and it is easy to see why with his impressive goalscoring record and an equally imposing tall and athletic physique. “This is my fourth World Cup,” said Koukpaki. “I have experience and my mind is only on helping the team achieve success.”