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Tears, no fears for Senegal after advancing into knockout phase

Tears, no fears for Senegal after advancing into knockout phase

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group A - Ecuador v Senegal - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 29, 2022 Ecuador's Jackson Porozo looks dejected as Senegal's Nampalys Mendy looks on REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

DOHA: Emotions ran high as Senegal qualified for the knockout phase of the World Cup exactly two years after the death of Papa Bouba Diop, the player who kick-started their 2002 run to the quarter-finals.

Kalidou Koulibaly wore a special armband with Diop's number 19 and the players held a banner with a portrait of the midfielder, who died aged 42, after their captain's 70th-minute strike sealed a 2-1 win against Ecuador and effectively sent them into the last 16.

Diop scored the goal in Senegal's 1-0 win against then holders France in the 2002 tournament and two in a 3-3 draw with Uruguay in their last group game.

"This victory and this (man-of-the-match) trophy are for the family of Papa Bouba Diop, this is a very special day," an emotional Koulibaly told a news conference after what he labelled "one of the most important game of our careers".

"We wanted to commemorate the great player he was, he's a legend of Senegalese football, he made me dream, he made all of us dream so we could not mess it up on the anniversary of his death."

Koulibaly, who spent eight seasons at Napoli before joining Chelsea this season, also sent "strength to the people of Naples, my second home", who have been affected by the landslide on the island of Ischia.

Senegal were without talismanic Sadio Mane, who was ruled out of the tournament before it started with a fibula injury and the Bayern Munich striker was in his team mates' minds.

"We also play for Sadio, he's our star, our brother, we're a family," said Koulibaly before coach Aliou Cisse also mentioned former coach Bruno Metsu, who led them to the quarter-finals in 2002, and died in 2013.

"I don't forget all those who helped us be here today," he said.

Koulibaly, however, quickly set sight on the next game. Senegal will face the winner of Group B, which features England, Iran, the United States and Wales.

"We're not listening to what's being said, we believe in ourselves and we don't intend to just go through the motions here," said Koulibaly.

"Two thirds of the world thought that we were done after Sadio got injured but the other third, us, Africa, had faith.

"After his injury, there was more pressure on the team leaders but everyone stepped up. We fear no one, we are a good team with a lot of talent."

Cisse said that Senegal were used to playing make-or-break games.

"We've played so many important games, like the final of the African Nations Cup," he said of Senegal's victory against Egypt on penalties in February.

Catch free highlights and moments from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at mewatch.sg/fifaworldcup.
Source: Reuters

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