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World Cup Vault: The Day That Senegal Stunned World Champions France

The latest in our look back at classic matches throughout football history recalls the day in 2002 that Senegal pulled off arguably the biggest World Cup shock of all time.

What was supposed to be the year that France consolidated their place at the top of the ladder, turned out to be a thoroughly embarrassing experience for Les Bleus.


The Background

Having added the 2000 European Championship to their 1998 World Cup success, France were determined to retain the latter in a robust display of dominance on the international stage. This was, of course, back in the days when the holders automatically qualified for the next tournament, so the 2001 Confederations Cup (which they also won) had been their only source of competitive football since the aforementioned 2000 Euro final.

With the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele, Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram in the side, they had every reason to be bristling with confidence.

Senegal, for their part, had fought their way into a first-ever World Cup appearance, seeing off the strong challenge of Morocco and Egypt in their qualifying group. They were largely expected to be the minnows of a World Cup group also containing Uruguay and Denmark, but under the management of Frenchman Bruno Metsu and with a dynamic young squad (also predominantly based in France), they were optimistic that they could pull off the impossible.

The Match

62,500 people packed into the Seoul Olympic Stadium to witness the beginning of the 2002 World Cup on May 31st. The aristocratic France, looking to add to their growing collection of international honours, faced off against first-time qualifiers in what was a true David and Goliath story. This, quite simply, was supposed to go only one way.

Even with the injury absence of Zinedine Zidane, France were expected to have far too much for their opponents. The dual power of Henry and Trezeguet alone should have been enough, even without the added threat of Sylvain Wiltord and Youri Djorkaeff on the wings.

The opening stages saw plenty of possession from France but little end product. The midfield were finding it hard to pick out the front two, and the Senegalese defence coped admirably with anything that even remotely looked like penetrating them. It soon became evident that Roger Lemerre’s side were badly missing Zidane’s creative spark.

France came close to breaking the deadlock midway through the first half when a shot from Trezeguet from the edge of the box struck the post. A let-off for Senegal, but a rare opportunity for France nonetheless.

While France might have thought that they could build on that chance, however, they were in shock just seven minutes later when they fell behind. El-Hadji Diouf, who had been terrorising the slow French defence from the outset, showed Franck Leboeuf a clean pair of heels as he raced through into the box. The Lens forward passed the ball across the face of goal to Papa Bouba Diop to shoot at goal.

Although his initial shot was saved by Fabien Barthez, the midfielder got a second crack of the whip and made no mistake this time in bundling the ball home and giving Senegal a surprise 1-0 lead on the half-hour mark.

For the remainder of the first half, there was genuine panic in the French camp. They were not expecting to go 1-0 down to Senegal at any stage and the sense was that they simply had no idea what to do to get back into the game. Most troubling of all for them was that none of them seemed to be able to get a handle on the magnificent Diouf.

After the restart, France seemed to get a better foothold in the match but they still seemed to be trying to force the issue. Djorkaeff missed a great chance while Vieira brought a fine save out of Senegal keeper Tony Sylva. had France relaxed a little then there was a goal there for them but the renewed impetus couldn’t mask their fear.

Both sides hit the crossbar within two minutes of each other midway through the second half, while France brought on Christophe Dugarry and, towards the end, Djibril Cisse in an attempt to overload the Senegal defence. That said, they left themselves open to the counter-attack and were still struggling to deal with Diouf, Diop and Khalilou Fadiga on the break.

The bewildered defending champions laid siege to the box in the final minutes, with the likes of Henry, Emmanuel Petit and Leboeuf all having cracks in a desperate attempt to salvage something – anything – from this game and not to have to stare into the abyss of sheer embarrassment.

In the end, the second-half pressure came to nought. The final whistle rang out, the French players fell to their knees. and Metsu and his Senegal side could bask in the glory of a monumental result.

The Aftermath

From there, it didn’t get much better for France in the remainder of the tournament. They laboured to a 0-0 draw against Uruguay in their second match, with a red card for Henry the only point of note. Needing a win over Denmark in their final group game, the return of Zidane was not enough to save them and they fell to a 2-0 defeat to bottom of the group, with no goals and just one point to their name in what was a dismal trophy defence. To the surprise of nobody, Lemerre was sacked soon after.

For Senegal, however, it was a much better tournament. They followed up their stunning win against France with an impressive 1-1 draw against Denmark, before sealing qualification for the last 16 with a 3-3 draw against Uruguay.

They then came from behind to defeat Sweden in extra time in their last 16 clash, before their great World Cup adventure came to an end with a 1-0 defeat (again after extra time) to Turkey.


France: Barthez, Thuram, Leboeuf, Desailly, Lizarazu, Vieira, Petit, Wiltord, Djorkaeff, Henry, Trezeguet.
Subs: Dugarry (Djorkaeff 60), Cisse (Wiltord 81)

Senegal: Sylva, Coly, Diatta, M. Diop, Daf, Cisse, N’Diaye, B. Diop, Diao, Fadiga, Diouf

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.