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Black History Month: Senegal stuns France in one of the biggest upsets ever

The 2002 World Cup started with the Senegalese handing the defending champs a monumental defeat

Bixente Lizarazu and Moussa Ndiaye Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images

It was the opening match of the 2002 World Cup, and Seoul, South Korea was the host. However, unlike they do it now, the host nation didn’t kickstart the tournament. It was a match involving the then-defending World Cup champions France. France was taking on Senegal in the opener, and by all accounts, it was set to be a bloodbath. France was the 1998 World Cup champions, the Euro 2000 champions, and they trotted out a lineup that featured legends of the game like Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, Fabien Barthez, Frank Lebeouf, and so many more.

Never underestimate heart, tenacity and the will to win. Because on May 31, 2002, one team had that on the field in Seoul: Senegal. Senegal took their cracks at the French defense, but France dominated possession despite Senegal’s calm play. In the 30th minute, magic happened. After a cross deep in the box into the middle and a quick shot, Papa Bouba Diop banged it home to make it 1-0.

After that, the French had their chances, with David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry, and Patrick Viera having chances come up short, but Senegal had opportunities to expand their lead. The French were flustered, yet the Senegalese played with poise and incredible calm. In the 90th minute, Henry had one more chance, but Senegalese goalkeeper Tony Sylva saved the point blank shot. And, that was all she wrote.

The final: 1-0, Senegal over France. In the opening match of the 2002 World Cup, the defending champions from 1998, number one in the world, were shocked by a team that was ranked 42nd in the world and who most thought would be ran off the field by the French. Senegal was there, they stood toe-to-toe with the champs, and they beat France anyway. They believed it was possible, and they went out and took it. It spurred Senegal to make a run to the quarterfinals, where they eventually lost on a golden goal in extra time to Turkey. France, on the other hand, did not score a goal and crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage, leaving with just a point from a scoreless draw against Uruguay.

This match was one that made people once again believe in the magic of the World Cup. In the World Cup, everyone has a chance to be great. On that day, Senegal was great, and their play will forever live as one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. Relive some of the highlights from this monumental upset.