When Senegal take to the Old Trafford turf for their opening match of the London 2012 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament on 26 July, there is every chance that Abdoulaye Sane will be involved. The game promises to be a real step up for the 19-year-old forward, who spent the past season in the reserves at Rennes after joining on a three-year deal last summer.
The Brittany-based club has become known as a springboard for African players, and Sane, formerly of Dakar outfit AS Douanes, is keen to further that reputation after a year of adjusting to life in France. His promising talent has already caught the eye of coach Frederic Antonetti, who has included him in the senior squad on a few occasions in the UEFA Europa League and the French League Cup.
Those experiences have given Sane a taste of the high level he aspires to, and he is prepared to bide his time to become a regular. “I’m still young and I don’t want to rush things,” he told FIFA.com. “I’m here to learn and I want to take my time. Now, after a year in France, I feel ready and the Olympics will be a great opportunity to show it.”
Sane, from Diouloulou in the Casamance region of Senegal, helped to make the country’s Olympic dream a reality by chipping in with some important goals for the Lionceaux. His most memorable effort to date came in the dying minutes of the play-off against Paul Le Guen’s Oman on 23 April. Senegal opened the scoring early in the game but could not find a way to extend their lead, until Sane came up with a late goal to put result beyond doubt.
“I knew then that we had qualified,” said Sane, reflecting on the goal. “It was a feeling of release, given what was at stake and the difficult journey we’d had.”
Sane’s goal sparked scenes of joy, and the sense of elation was felt by the whole of Senegal. “This is the first time that the Senegalese football team have qualified for the Olympics. It’s a source of national pride,” said the midfielder. Indeed, the African heavyweights have struggled over the past decade to replicate the international success they enjoyed in 2002, when they reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup and the final of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in the same year.
“Lots of people came to congratulate us in the changing room after we qualified,” recalled Sane, who is particularly proud of the compliments he received from 2002 heroes El-Hadji Diouf, Salif Diao and Lamine Diatta, as well as Senegal-born Frenchman Patrick Vieira. “When a player like him (Vieira) tells us that he really believes in us, it gives us a lot of strength,” Sane said.
Despite those words of encouragement, Sane is mindful of the fact that Senegal start as outsiders, in both the tournament as a whole and in their group. “It’s going to be very tough, particularly against Great Britain and Uruguay. But Senegal is a great football nation and we will give everything to reach the second round,” said the Rennes midfielder. “Even so, I’m quite confident because we have a close-knit group who know each other well. We also have a few assets of our own, such as height, technique and pace.”
Sane epitomises those three qualities, and they are traits that could well help the west Africans spring a surprise in London. Two African nations have already won the tournament, with Nigeria the first to do so in 1996 before Cameroon repeated the feat four years later. Senegal will be hoping that their Olympic trail is also paved with gold.