Unlike many of its peers currently at the top of African football, football’s introduction to Senegal came a little later. The sport was first introduced to Senegal around 1915, with L’Union Sportive des Tireurs Dakarois being the first club founded in 1929 and prominent power Jeanne d’Arc coming into existence a few months later. For the first half of the 20th century, Senegalese football was dominated by two major cities, the capital Dakar and Saint-Louis. A tense rivalry emerged between the two competing scenes, resulting in power struggles throughout the early history of Senegalese football.
The first exposure beyond local football for Senegal’s early clubs came in the French West African Cup, which ran between 1948 and 1960 and was a tournament that involved club teams from France’s colonies in West Africa. Senegalese teams dominated the tournament during its existence, with Jeanne d’Arc and US Goree distinguishing themselves by capturing multiple titles. This success established the footballing potential in the country before independence in 1960 and the founding of CAF and the national team.
Senegal’s national team, known as the Lions of Teranga, was involved in CAF’s early days, joining as a member association in 1963 following their affiliation to FIFA in 1962. The Teranga Lions took part in the 1965 and 1968 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations in the tournament’s early days, putting up respectable performances in both and obtaining fourth place in 1965. However, a drought without success followed for Senegal that lasted until the late 1980’s before the national team started to hint at the great success that would come. They made it back to the Africa Cup of Nations in 1986, and became a regular fixture as the tournament transformed into the larger showcase it is today. Senegal hosted its first and only Africa Cup of Nations in 1992, making it to the quarter-finals and beginning a trend of making it to the knockout rounds.
All these signs of improvement resulted in 2002 being the year where Senegal established its reputation as a team to fear. In January the team made it to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, only losing due to a poor performance in the penalty kick shootout. However, the AFCON was only a teaser of what this team was capable of. Qualifying for their first World Cup in Japan and South Korea, the opening matchup with former colonizers France was only appropriate for the gravity of the occasion. A stellar performance from the team and goal by Papa Bouba Diop shocked the defending champions, and sparked the fire for a run that took Senegal to the quarter-finals. Many of the members of that squad had previously established themselves in French club football, and following the tournament multiple players earned big-money moves to the English Premier League. The legacy of this tournament has since put a spotlight on Senegal, and the country continues to regularly produce talents that succeed in the top levels of European football as well as in African national team competition.