YOKOHAMA, Japan – Africans again opened a World Cup with a monumental upset.
Rekindling memories of one of the continent’s greatest soccer triumphs 12 years earlier, Senegal frustrated defending champion France with a tight defense and flawless goalkeeping. The World Cup newcomers made a 30th-minute goal from Papa Bouba Diop stand for a 1-0 victory that sparked dancing in the streets back home in Dakar.
Not that Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade was surprised. He predicted victory for his upstarts, who matched the feat of Cameroon in 1990, when it beat Argentina 1-0.
“They learned their trade, their technique, the science of football in France,” Wade said. “They have come to Senegal’s side, a little like an apprentice who learned his lesson well, and now faces his master.”
And beats the master, which looked tentative without injured star Zinedine Zidane. The hero of the 1998 championship is sidelined with a torn thigh muscle.
Still, nothing can minimize Senegal’s achievement. Not the French shots that hit the posts and crossbar, or went directly at goalkeeper Tony Sylva. Not the nervousness the favorites displayed.
“Today’s victory is a victory for all of Africa and Senegal,” Diop said. “No one expected that Senegal will beat France. But we did.”
Senegal certainly wouldn’t mind repeating Cameroon’s showing at Italia ’98. Cameroon went to the quarterfinals, becoming the most successful African team in the World Cup.
Argentina recovered to reach the final, as France still could do.
“We take comfort from the fact that nothing’s finished,” coach Roger Lemerre said. “There are two more matches to win. If we can win, we’ll have six points and we’ll be through.”
The first World Cup in Asia — and the first to be divided between two countries — opened with fireworks, traditional dance, high-tech displays and bristling security.
Japan, the co-host with South Korea, was represented at opening ceremonies by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Prince Takamado, a cousin of the emperor and first member of Japan’s royal family to visit Korea since the end of Japanese rule there in 1945.
South Korea hoped Emperor Akihito himself would attend, but Japan worried about lingering hostility after war and occupation. The emperor is to attend the final June 30 in Yokohama.
When recently re-elected FIFA president Sepp Blatter spoke at the opening, he was jeered by some of the 64,640 in the stands.