Let's dance: 'Papa' pounces to flatten France and turn world on its head

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The Independent Online

An African dawn greeted the 17th World Cup as it burst spectacularly through the drizzle with the stunning victory of Senegal over the reigning champions, France, yesterday watched by more than 62,000 spectators who included the President of South Korea and the Prime Minister of Japan.

An African dawn greeted the 17th World Cup as it burst spectacularly through the drizzle with the stunning victory of Senegal over the reigning champions, France, yesterday watched by more than 62,000 spectators who included the President of South Korea and the Prime Minister of Japan.

President Kim Dae-Jung and Junichiro Koizumi had beginners' luck as World Cup fans.

This was a delicious first course of a 64-match menu, which over the next four weeks will be played out in 20 custom-built stadiums in South Korea and Japan – all superbly designed grounds that have been built in scarcely more than the two years in which Wembley, England's decrepit national stadium, has lain idle.

The leaders of the joint hosts of this year's tournament might just believe, on the evidence of the opening game, that all the work and the money has been worthwhile.

Certainly Senegal (population 10 million) could not have done more to launch successfully the world's greatest sports tournament, which is expected to break all television viewing records. Their winning goal came in the 30th minute from "Papa" Bouba Diop. It wasn't a classically fashioned goal, simply the exploitation of panic in the vaunted French defence, but much of Senegal's play was an exuberant joy.

Their star was 21-year-old El Hadji Diouf, who admits to a youth of thuggery when being brought up by his grandmother. He also has a regular consultation with a witch-doctor and indeed was disciplined this season for delaying his return to his French club to fit in an audience with the traditional healer.

But the fact is that Diouf, Africa's player of the year who is currently in negotiations with Liverpool, is very much the face of modern football. His asking price may well have skyrocketed by the end of this World Cup. His dazzling pace repeatedly undermined the French defence, which two years ago added the European Championship title to the World Cup gained with victory over Brazil in Paris in 1998.

For the world champions defeat was an utterly unexpected disaster. Roger Lemerre, the coach, anxious about the fitness prospects of the world's number one player, Zinedine Zidane, had hoped to cruise through the first two group games with maximum points and keep his virtuoso on the sidelines until the start of the second-round phase in two weeks. Now Zidane might be rushed back to action for the third group game against Denmark as survival becomes the French priority.

For Senegal and their French coach, Bruno Metsu, who recently married a local woman and converted to Islam, the future is an undreamt of horizon. Metsu said: "I always had faith in my team, but even I could not have hoped they would perform so brilliantly against the world champions. This is a magnificent day for Senegal – and football."

The victory certainly ranks among the all-time World Cup shocks, alongside an amateur United States win over England in the Brazilian mining town of Belo Horizonte in 1950 and Cameroon's defeat of reigning champions Argentina in Milan 12 years ago. The Cameroon triumph was also hailed as football's African dawn, but in reality it was more of a fiercely conducted ambush of Diego Maradona's team. Two African players were sent off for vicious tackling.

Last night Senegal pleased both the purists and the romantics as well as the prime ministers and the presidents. They beat the champions of the world with speed and skill, and they may indeed have brought up the sun on a new era of the world's most popular game.

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