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Senegal players dedicated their World Cup win over Ecuador to the late Papa Bouba Diop, who starred for the country at the 2002 finals.
Their 2-1 win over the South Americans on Tuesday, which sealed the West Africans’ progress to the last 16, where they will meet England, fell on the second anniversary of the midfielder’s death aged 42.
Diop scored the winning goal as debutants Senegal shocked holders France in the opening game of the tournament 20 years ago.
Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly wore a special armband against Ecuador with ’19’ – Diop’s shirt number – on it and said he would give his man of the match award to Diop’s family.
“We knew the anniversary of his death was something very important for his family,” the Chelsea centre-back said.
“We wanted to pay homage to him, he made me dream when I was a boy. We wanted to commemorate the great player he was. He’s a legend of Senegalese football.”
Diop helped Senegal reach the World Cup quarter-finals in Japan and South Korea, making them just the second African team to reach that stage of the finals after Cameroon in 1990.
Nicknamed ‘The Wardrobe’, he later had spells in England with Fulham, Portsmouth, West Ham United and Birmingham City.
After an opening defeat by the Netherlands and victory over host Qatar, the African champions went into their final Group A game against Ecuador knowing they had to win to make the knock-out stages – and their victory has set up a first ever clash with England in the last 16.
“We knew we wanted to play in his honour, this wasn’t something we were going to let slip,” Koulibaly, 31, added.
“It was important for us as a team to make our families and Papa’s family proud. I will give his family the trophy in his honour.”
After the match, celebrating Senegal players held up a banner with a picture of Diop, who scored three goals at the 2002 finals, which said ‘True Lion Never Dies’ in front of their supporters.
Senegal’s links to the 2002 side run deep, with the then captain Aliou Cisse now national coach and striker El Hadji Diouf with the side in Qatar as a team ambassador.
Another member of that squad, midfielder Alassane N’Dour, said the current side had done Diop proud.
“Before the game we talked to the players to say he used to be a lion on the pitch, so just play like him when he used to play,” N’Dour told BBC Sport Africa.
“We are very proud and this is a very good memorial for him. We are very happy. We know that where he is now, he’s happy to see the boys playing like him.”
A message of support from absent Mane
Meanwhile, Koulibaly, whose goal was his first in 67 appearances for Senegal, revealed his side had been inspired by a pre-game message from Sadio Mane.
The Bayern Munich forward is Senegal’s all-time record goalscorer with 34, but was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.
“He sent us a message before the game. Even though he is not here, he is with us,” Koulibaly said.
“When it came to his injury, I think two-thirds of the world probably doubted we would be able to qualify. The only ones who thought we could still qualify were the African people and the Senegalese people.
“After his injury, there was more pressure on the team leaders, but everyone stepped up. We fear no-one. We are a good team with a lot of talent.
“Yes, Sadio is a star – he is a symbol of the Senegalese football team – but there are 11 players on a football field. This is their time to shine.”
If they are to become the first African team to reach the quarter-finals for the second time, Senegal must beat England when they meet at 19:00 GMT on Sunday.
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