Oumar Sylla, African domination and global ambition
Guided Senegal to three successive Beach Soccer World Cups
Also led his side to three straight Africa Cups
Aiming for semi-finals at upcoming World Cup
Since Oumar Sylla was appointed coach of the Senegalese beach soccer team in 2016, the west African side have enjoyed one success after another. As well as qualifying them for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups of Bahamas 2017, Paraguay 2019 and Russia 2021, he has steered them to glory at the last three editions of the CAF Beach Soccer Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament he also won thrice as a player at South Africa 2008, and Morocco 2011 and 2013.
While preparing his side for next month’s Beach Soccer World Cup, Sylla made time to talk to FIFA.com and began by sharing the credit for his team’s achievements: "The first thing we must do is give thanks to God, and then recognise that success is never an individual achievement but a collective one. Credit must also go to the Senegalese State, who have created the best possible conditions for us. The same goes for the Senegalese football federation. The players and members of the coaching staff are also to be congratulated for all the trophies we’ve managed to win. That said, there’s no secret to our success, except our belief in the need for constant work to get to the top, with God's blessing of course."
Going beyond the quarters
Asked about Senegal's triumph at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, where they overcame Mozambique in the final, the man known as Ngalla said: "It was a wonderful and special year for us, because we played the Africa Cup on home soil. That can be tough, as it’s not always easy to win in front of your fans because of the immense pressure to deliver. Fortunately for us, we rose to the challenge and won the title, thanks to patience and hard work as well as the wonderful organisational efforts surrounding the team."
However, the Lions of Teranga’s continental success has proved harder to replicate at global level. While Sylla has guided them safely through the group phase at the past two World Cups, they have yet to go beyond the quarter-finals. Asked about this barrier, the coach said: "At the Bahamas edition, we started strong, before running up against a renowned opponent in the shape of Italy, who eliminated us with a 5-1 defeat. In Paraguay, we topped our group despite it containing three established beach soccer nations in Russia, Belarus and UAE. We lost only one group game – against Russia – and won our other two games."
Despite that, Senegal once again exited in the quarters, this time going down to eventual champions Portugal 4-2, much to the regret of their coach.
For next month’s World Cup, the draw could have been kinder to the Senegalese, who find themselves in what Sylla calls a ‘difficult’ group. "We’ll be up against experienced opponents like Portugal, who I consider favourites for the title, Uruguay, who have a very experienced team, and Oman, a solid side who are physically strong, technically gifted and tactically disciplined."
However, the size of the task ahead does not discourage the young coach, who has an unshakeable belief in his side’s ability to perform well because of their good preparation – even if he acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected his plans by forcing the cancellation of some scheduled training camps in Senegal.
What Africa needs in order to win a world title
Before concluding, the Senegalese tactician talked more generally about beach soccer in Africa, insisting that the discipline "needs to develop at all levels – sporting, organisational and administrative. We need to ramp up our participation in different competitions so that the players can become battle-hardened. Particular importance also needs to be given to the training of coaches and players, and to assist those teams representing the continent at global events to properly prepare for these challenges."
We signed off by asking Sylla if he thought an African nation would one day win the World Cup, to which he replied: "Yes, we could see an African team crowned world champion one day, but on the condition they start preparing now. I remain convinced that nothing is impossible for Africa."