Best African National Teams of the 2000s: #8

In this series Michael McDuffie ranks the ten best African national teams of the century. Coming in 8th place is…

Senegal’s team at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations.

Despite their penalty loss to Cameroon in the final, Senegal enjoyed an overall successful campaign at the 2002 AFCON. The Lions of Teranga, led by French manager Bruno Metsu on the touchline and players such as forward El Hadji Diouf and current national team manager Aliou Cissé on the pitch, won their group with two wins and one draw without conceding a goal. Victories over Egypt and Zambia were only tempered by a scoreless draw against Tunisia.

In the quarterfinals, a 2-0 win against DR Congo extended Senegal’s run of clean sheets to four matches. Only a late equalizing goal in the semifinal from Nigeria’s Julius Aghahowa broke the stellar defensive run. In extra time, the winning goal came in the 97th minute from midfielder Salif Diao, putting Senegal into their first ever AFCON final.

Senegal’s run ended at the final in penalties but was very similar to that of the winners Cameroon. Like the defending champions, Senegal did not lose a single match in regular or extra time. However, they drew 0-0 twice, once in the group stage and once in the final, while Cameroon’s only draw was in the final. The team also had a stellar defensive record in the tournament, only conceding one goal. The run to the final for Senegal also set the foundations for the team going into the same year’s FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan.