It’s now 10 weeks until the World Cup kicks off in Russia and as such, we’re counting down the days with a throwback every Thursday until then.
For our series opener, we had to pick a memory from an opening game, so we’re taking it back to 2002…
Senegal 1 – 0 France
It was a nation making their World Cup debut against a side that were not only the world champions and holders of the trophy but also the European Champions from two years prior and as a result, big favourites to go and win again in 2002. Japan and South Korea played host to the first ever tournament on Asian soil and an understandably excitable crowd witnessed one of the shocks of the competition’s history.
It was, of course, France vs Senegal. Henry, Zidane, Vieira and the rest in the famous blue of France, against a number of young African players, many of whom played in Ligue 1. One of which was El-Hadj Diouf, now a controversial figure not even loved much by those he played for thanks to an array of spitting incidents and unpopular opinions, but back then, Africa’s player of the year and a 21-year-old with the world at his feet.
He gave an experienced French back-four a torrid time, using his pace to unsettle an ageing Frank Leboeuf and harass anyone with the ball. It was he, once of Liverpool but then of RC Lens, who set up the defining moment, surging down the wing and teeing up a tap-in for his clubmate, Pape Bouba Diop after 30 minutes played.
From then it was pure frustration for holders. There was no way past a well-drilled and determined Senegalese side with every member doing their job. Marking Zidane, shutting down Henry. The Arsenal man struck the bar after the hour mark, but that was as close as Les Bleus came.
With Senegal captain, Aliou Cisse sitting in front of his back four, the African side made it over the line for a famous victory. The game and the tournament would go on to define an era in Senegalese football as many of the squad went on to lengthy careers in the Premier League and elsewhere.
Draws against Denmark and Uruguay sealed their passage to the knockouts, where a 107th-minute golden goal against Sweden advanced them into the quarter-finals. Another surprise package on 2002, Turkey, would eventually knock them out, but this team remain legends in their nation today – and that’s what the World Cup is all about.
For France, it began something of a decline. After successive World Cup and European Championship wins, the French haven’t won a major tournament since 2000.
Pogba, Mbappe, Griezmann; are you guys going to fix this in 10 weeks time?