Senegal is in their first ever Olympics appearance, and they look to be taking full advantage of the opportunity. Through two group matches, they have drawn Great Britain and defeated Uruguay, showing the world that they are ready to contend for a medal.
Not long ago when the Olympic soccer squads were announced, Senegal looked a team destined for failure. While serious medal contenders had called up mega-stars like Neymar, Ryan Giggs, Luis Suarez, and Juan Mata, the African nation had been denied the services of both Demba Ba and Papisse Cisse.
The players had phenomenal seasons debuting for Newcastle of the EPL, but manager Alan Pardew denied them the honor of representing their country at the Olympics.
Surprisingly, the team has played wonderfully without them. Striker Moussa Konate looks to be both instinctive and deadly. He scored a brave equalizer to earn a draw with Great Britain in the opening match, and he scored twice against Uruguay from corner kicks. On the first he poked a loose ball through into the net, and on the second he beat his marker and headed in a goal.
The striker everyone had expected to succeed, Ibrahima Balde, hasn’t found the back of the net yet. If he can start making an impact, the Olympics could very well be the coming out party for Senegal. Considering the two strikers left home, Senegal could be well on their way to taking over African soccer in the near future.
The team is also finding success through brutal tactics that involve heavy tackles and frustrating their opponents. They drew a plethora of complaints from the British team for their tactics, and may well have earned several red cards during the game, but good fortune enabled them to evade trouble and allowed them to scrape a draw.
During the second match facing Uruguay, their intensity was again on display but they were punished this time as Abdoulaye Ba was sent off for dragging down Luis Suarez, who was charging free towards the goal. Incredibly, the team performed fine after the sending off and strolled to a 2-0 victory.
Although Senegal is not making any new friends during this tournament, I feel that it is hardly their aim. They are in their first ever Olympics and look like a team that is really going for it and trying to win.
Clearly their physical style is getting into the heads of the opposition and has opened an opportunity for an upset in the group stage. Facing their last group match on Wednesday against the United Arab Emirates, this team only needs a draw to progress and has their destiny in their own hands, while tournament favorites Uruguay and Great Britain will battle for survival. Let’s just hope Senegal can avoid another sending off as we enter the defining moments of the Olympics.