KEIR RADNEDGE in Coventry: Senegal’s first-ever appearance at the Olympic Games football finals represents a “now or never” moment for their new young players – according to play-off star Ibrahima Balde.
The 23-year-old from Spanish club Osasuna scored the early first goal in the 2-0 play-off win over Oman in Coventry and then talked through the depth of the result’s significance.
Balde said: “This is a very, very important stage of life for me personally, for our country and for African football. At 23 I had the feeling that it was now or never if I was going to do something special – so this was the moment.
“Many people have been involved in this of course: all the players, the coaches, everyone involved with us. We all really wanted to achieve something significant. The Olympic Games are special and to complete in them must be a special event in one’s life.
“This is a great moment for me and I look forward to continuing in the same fashion.”
Assistant coach Aliou Cisse, the former Birmingham City player, described Olympic qualification as “a great honour for our country and our continent.” He said he and his colleagues and players had studied Oman fromvideos of their previous games and thought they had detected defensive weaknesses of which they could take advantage.
He refused to speculate about whether Newcastle star strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse might be called up as over-age players for the finals.
Cisse said: “It’s important to play with the best players and there are others who may come into the reckoning. But we qualified with the players in this team and they are the ones who primarily deserved to be selected in the summer for what is a historic event for our country.”
Oman’s French coach Paul Le Guen said he was “disappointed but proud of the efforts of my players.”
He added: “It was always difficult after conceding the first goal so early but we kept our organisation and made chances. We were just not efficient enough in front of goal. But I want to congratulate all the players for their spirit.
“It’s difficult to defend a free kick against such a team because they were taller and stronger than us. You need a tall goalkeeper and we did not have one. He’s good but not tall and so we had problems with free kicks – and we knew that.
“Still, we created many problems for Senegal. Things could have been different if the referee had whistled a penalty at the end of the first half but congratulations to Senegal. There is nothing to be ashamed of in losing to Senegal when you consider the cv of some of their players compared with ours.”
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