Senegal face Japan on Sunday at the World Cup fired up by an “ignorant” tweet by a British tycoon and reality television star that has become the talk of the team.
Along with Nigeria, a powerful Senegal side spearheaded by Liverpool striker Sadio Mane are flying the flag for Africa in Russia.
After battling to a 2-1 opening win over Poland in Group H, Aliou Cisse’s Senegal can take a major step towards the last 16 with victory over Japan in Yekaterinburg.
They unwittingly found themselves at the centre of a Twitter storm this week after businessman Alan Sugar tweeted a picture of the Senegal team with the caption, “I recognise some of these guys from the beach in Marbella”.
Alongside the picture, the billionaire Briton posted images of sunglasses and handbags for sale.
The Apprentice presenter took down the post and later apologised after being accused of racism, but the incident angered Senegal and could serve to further inspire them against Japan.
Ndongo Ndiaye, a former basketball player and now an adviser to Senegal President Macky Sall, told The Times at the team’s base in Kaluga, south of Moscow: “Everyone here is talking about this tweet, it has made headlines in Senegal too.
“I think it is very ignorant from someone in his position,” said Ndiaye, calling for Sugar to be sacked by the BBC.
“Of course, there must be freedom of speech but this was wrong and it is hurtful to the players and people from Senegal.”
Livewire forward Mane is Senegal’s prime dangerman, but it was the raw pace and power of Mbaye Niang and a mistake by Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny that clinched victory on Tuesday after Thiago Cionek’s own goal put the Africans ahead.
Cisse and his men are now dreaming of a repeat of their run to the quarter-finals in 2002 — he captained that team.
“Of course we represent our country but I can also guarantee that the whole of Africa is supporting us,” said Cisse, the only black coach at the World Cup.
– Weak second half? –
A week ago, Japan — who sacked Vahid Halilhodzic and brought in Akira Nishino as coach just weeks before the World Cup — looked the easiest game in the group.
But a shock 2-1 win over Colombia made them the first Asian side to beat a South American team at a World Cup and will have infused the Japanese with badly needed belief.
In mitigation, Colombia played almost the whole game with 10 men after Carlos Sanchez was sent off on three minutes.
Japan’s attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda said on Friday they were wary of Senegal — but could also see a major weakness.
“It’s going to be tough, they have great players. They’re physical, they’re fast and they’ll play in front of a big crowd,” he said.
“But I know the weakness of some African teams… You know, no one can play perfectly for 90 minutes, and African players especially lack concentration, particularly in the second half.”