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Top 10 World Cup memories: No. 2 - France 0-1 Senegal

There was no way back for the tired, dispirited French who came to Korea as champs and went home, bottom of the group, as chumps.
There was no way back for the tired, dispirited French who came to Korea as champs and went home, bottom of the group, as chumps.

In this special 10-part series, ESPN's Jayaditya Gupta, who has attended every World Cup since 2002, recalls his favourite matches from the tournament. At No. 2 is the game in which Bouba Diop stunned defending champions France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup.

The context

Your first World Cup as a reporter, your first match of the tournament. The reigning champions up against first-timers. The first ever World Cup in Asia. No wonder France 0-1 Senegal features so high on my list of memories.

In celebration, Bouba Diop stripped off his jersey and threw it on the ground near the far corner flag, and the players formed a ring and did a little dance around it.
In celebration, Bouba Diop stripped off his jersey and threw it on the ground near the far corner flag, and the players formed a ring and did a little dance around it.

The match

The result was a shock. France, the team of Zidane, Desailly, Barthez, losing to rank newcomers? France fielded seven players who'd started the final in Paris four years previously. And that was precisely the problem: Those seven - including the back four and keeper, were all on the wrong side of 30. Lebouef and Djorkaeff were 34; Dugarry, who came on as a sub, was 30. In the muggy heat of Seoul, they wilted and were picked apart by Senegal.

For the winners, striker El Hadj Diouf was at least a decade younger than the men marking him and it showed in the goal. On the half hour, Djorkaeff was caught in possession on the halfway line, the ball was passed to Diouf on the left, about 30 yards from goal. Ahead of Diouf was Lebeouf, and ahead of that open space. He glided past Lebeouf's tackle - it reminded me, at the time, of Jonah Lomu trampling over Mike Catt in that other World Cup seven years previously. Then a sprint down the left to the penalty box, the ball centred in and, after a mix-up between Barthez and Petit, Pape Bouba Diop bundled the ball home.

Whatever wind France had in their sails at this point was knocked straight out. Both sides had chances, and both sides had one shot apiece rattling the post, but there was no way back for the tired, dispirited French who came to Korea as champs and went home, bottom of the group, as chumps.

A Senagalese journalist celebrates Senegal's win over France.
A Senagalese journalist celebrates Senegal's win over France.

The memories

But that's only half the story, maybe even less. The backdrop to this contest spanned years, decades, centuries: Senegal was a former French colony and the relationship, though no longer bloody and brutal, was complicated, to say the least. For example, while only one member of France's starting XI played for a French club, all of Senegal's did, as did nine others in the squad. Example Two: Patrick Vieira, France's lynchpin, was of Senegalese origin (as the chant about him went); his ancestry ensured he received "special" treatment through the match.

Before the match, Senegalese journalists were clear that a) this was payback time and b) their team would win. The celebrations after Bouba Diop's goal confirmed both; he stripped off his jersey and threw it on the ground near the far corner flag, and the players formed a ring and did a little dance around it. Near the centre circle, the defender Omar Daf dropped to his knees and kissed the ground. Around us the Senegalese journalists celebrated like they'd won the World Cup. Perhaps we all did.

The celebrations continued late into the Seoul night; the Koreans had adopted Senegal as their team for this match, and were now part of the after-party. While France went home in disgrace, Senegal went on to the quarter-finals, where they lost to Turkey. They are back at the World Cup for the first time since 2002 and once again have an exciting, attacking team. Whatever happens in Russia, they can always take heart from Seoul.

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