Teranga means hospitality in the Wolof language, but in a broader sense, the word represents Senegalese character and pride.
Sixteen years had passed since the Lions last strode onto the global stage and, like they did in South Korea and Japan, they filled the soccer-loving hearts of Africa — and particularly those in the western region — with a stirring introduction.
This 2-1 victory over Poland will not send tremors through the soccer world like their 2002 upset of reigning champion France. But it was a surprise against Group H’s dubious top seed and threw the foursome into chaos: Senegal and Japan top the group, not Poland and 2014 quarterfinalist Colombia.
“Senegal today represents the whole of the African continent,” said Coach Aliou Cisse, 42, who captained the upset of France in Seoul. “We are Senegal. We do represent our country, but we can also guarantee that the whole of Africa is supporting our Senegal national team. I get phone calls from everywhere. People do believe in our team and they’re proud.”
The Lions scored on an own goal in the 37th minute and, during a fortuitous sequence in the second half, a player reentering after injury pounced on a flawed back pass to score into an empty net.
Grzegorz Krychowiak’s 86th-minute header offered fleeting hope for Poland, but the better team prevailed before a spirited audience that included Senegalese President Macky Sall.
Moments after it ended, the Lions marched toward a cluster of supporters dressed in colorful outfits and led a synchronized celebration, complete with dancing and broad smiles. It wasn’t quite Iceland’s Viking Clap salute, but it was a pure moment of fan-player unity for a blossoming tournament darling.
“Yes, there was some luck involved, but we also worked an awful lot and deserved it,” said Mbaye Niang, an Italian-based forward who helped create the first goal and scored the second. “We managed to seize this opportunity when it was given to us.”
Senegal is pretty hype about that opening FIFA World Cup win. 🇸🇳
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Senegal and Nigeria are West Africa’s representatives here, survivors from a continental qualifying campaign that dismissed 2014 entries Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast. The early days of the World Cup saw each African side fall, leaving the Lions to salvage continental pride and maintain realistic hopes of escaping the group stage.
Recent history is on Senegal’s side. Since 1998, 51 of 60 teams that won their first match advanced to the round of 16.
African soccer will like to do a little better. Projected some 30 years ago to begin fulfilling its immense potential, the continent has sent only three teams to the quarterfinals: Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010).
The Lions of Terenga have the personnel to make a mark. All but one player on the 23-man roster is employed by European clubs, including Liverpool, Napoli, Torino, Bordeaux, Anderlecht, West Ham and Monaco. The exception is veteran goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye, who toils in Guinea.