Senegal delight in Olympic victory

Senegal, who stunned the football world when they upset defending champions France in the opening match of the 2002 World Cup, have reached the Olympic football tournament for the first time with a 2-0 win over Oman.

Eurosport

The game, to decide the 16th and final place in the men's tournament, began with a goal after only two minutes from Senegal's exciting striker Ibrahima Balde of Osasuna, who headed home unmarked from a free-kick.

It ended with Senegal's clincher, two minutes from time, from substitute Abdoulaye Sane. In between there was some cavalier, exciting football as Olympic football returned to Britain for the first time in more than 40 years in the unlikely setting of the City of Coventry Stadium.

The last Olympic match played in Britain was in March 1971 when the British team beat Bulgaria 1-0 in the first leg of a qualifier for the Munich Olympics in front of just 2,200 fans at Wembley Stadium.

Britain lost the second leg 5-0 which proved the country's last Olympic involvement because of political problems surrounding the home nations until 2005 when London was awarded the Games.

Monday's match was not only a playoff for the 2012 Games finals but also one of 42 test events ahead of the summer extravaganza.

More than 11,000 fans, comprising miserable locals depressed with Coventry City's relegation to League Two on Saturday and lively Omanis and Senegalese, enjoyed a cold night in the Midlands, watching a side from the Middle East and one from Africa, playing contrasting styles with just one aim in mind.

Senegal's taller, stronger players dominated much of the aerial balls, while the Omanis, technically quick but lacking in stamina and finesse in front of goal, both produced plenty of exciting action, but Senegal just about held the upper hand and deserved their win.

Balde, who left Senegal at 16 for Argentina where he signed for Diego Maradona's old side Argentinos Juniors before a spell at Velez Sarsfield and a subsequent move to Spain, summed up what the match meant to him and his country afterwards.

"The truth is, this is a very important stage for me personally, for our country and for African football. At 23 years old, I have the feeling it's now or never if I am going to do something special in my life and achieve something so this was the moment," he said.

"This was a victory in which many people have been involved and we really wanted to do something special and memorable. The Olympic Games is special and to take part is a great moment for me and for my country."

Assistant coach Alou Cisse, who used to play for nearby Birmingham City, said Monday had been a special night.

"As you know, it is a first for us, an honour to represent our country and our continent at the Olympics. It has not always been easy in the last 10 years for Senegal but this is a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard over the years for our country, day in and day out," he said.

Oman coach, Frenchman Paul Le Guen, who has coached Rangers and Lyon, was naturally disappointed that their long Olympic odyssey, which took in matches across Asia including winning their Asian play-off tournament in Hanoi, was over.

"It has been a very positive experience and no disgrace to lose to Senegal, I think we have improved, but it is not enough. We need to do more but are going in the right way," he said.

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