An electrifying start

Overjoyed West Africans celebrated Senegal's stunning World Cup upset of France as a victory for all Africa, dancing in streets of cities from the Atlantic Ocean to the Congo River.

Opening ceremony: It was a colourful start to Asia's first World Cup.-AP

"Senegal has made history!" celebrant Atiouma Diouf screamed among thousands in the oceanside capital, Dakar, at the World Cup newcomer's barely dreamed-of victory over the World Cup's defending champion.

Men, women and children ran and danced through the city after the 1-0 triumph, with Senegal's red, green and yellow flag streaming from outstretched hands. Thousands pressed up to the gates of the Palace of the Republic in downtown Dakar to congratulate the President, Abdoulaye Wade, who decreed the day a national holiday so that all could celebrate.

"I knew that the team could win," Wade declared. He implored the team now to keep going "to defend the colours of Africa."

Senegal earlier had called off school for Senegal's first-ever World Cup match - saying no one could be expected to study. Children started running into the streets to dance as soon as Pape Bouba Diop scored the first - and only - goal. By match's end, men and women of all ages joined in the throng.

Drivers leaned full force on horns, not even trying to move forward in the capital's sudden euphoria jam. "We beat them! We beat them!" one woman in Dakar, Ndeye, screamed among the flag-draped doorways and buildings.

In Seoul, Diop and four teammates, ecstatic at the accomplishment, ran to the side and formed a circle, dancing with each other, then boogied in an impromptu conga line. Senegal's team had been pieced together from countrymen playing for teams in Europe, mostly in France.

Senegal fans are over the moon after their team's sensational win.-REUTERS

Bruno Metsu, who took the job at the start of last year, coaxed the Senegalese into playing for Senegal as none had before - taking the country to their first African Nations Cup decider earlier. The victory set off smaller-scale celebrations across West Africa - like Senegal, much of it the former colonial domain of France.

"Europeans in general and the French in particular have learned today to respect African teams!" Diaby Sekou, a businessman from Mali, said amid clamourous celebrations in the Republic of Congo's capital, Brazzaville. "It's a lesson - France and the rest of the world have to change their vision of Africa," student Stanislas Elenga said there.

President Wade was not surprised. He predicted victory for his upstarts, who matched the feat of Cameroon in 1990, when it beat Argentina 1-0. "They learned their trade, their technique, the science of football in France," Wade said. "They have come to Senegal's side, a little like an apprentice who learned his lesson well, and now faces his master."

And beats the master, which looked tentative without injured star Zinedine Zidane. The hero of the 1998 championship was sidelined with a torn thigh muscle. Still, nothing can minimise Senegal's achievement. Not the French shots that hit the posts and crossbar, or went directly at goalkeeper Tony Sylva. Not the nervousness the favourites displayed. Nothing. Senegal certainly wouldn't mind repeating Cameroon's showing at Italia 90. Cameroon went to the quarterfinals, becoming the most successful African team in the World Cup. Argentina recovered to reach the final, as France still could do. "We take comfort from the fact that nothing's finished," coach Roger Lemerre said. "There are two more matches to win. If we can win, we'll have six points and we'll be through."

The first World Cup in Asia - and the first to be divided between two countries - opened with fireworks, traditional dance, high-tech displays and bristling security.

Japan, the co-host with South Korea, was represented at the opening ceremonies by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Prince Takamado, a cousin of the emperor and first member of Japan's Royal family to visit Korea since the end of Japanese rule there in 1945.

South Korea hoped Emperor Akihito himself would attend, but Japan was worried about lingering hostility after war and occupation. The emperor is to attend the final on June 30 in Yokohama.

When recently re-elected FIFA President Sepp Blatter spoke at the opening, he was jeered by some of the 64,640 in the stands.

Another 500 million around the globe watched on television, including thousands of Koreans who braved cool, gusty winds to crowd into plazas and watch on giant screens hung from office towers. Most cheered underdog Senegal, whose goal was greeted with loud applause, even in the replays.

In France, fans were rivetted to the television for the opening World Cup match, and gave a collective gasp when their world champion team lost. From students who skipped classes, or were set free for the event, to office workers, life slowed down in France for the duration of the match in Seoul.

Many fans were philosophical about the loss, while fans of Senegal - once ruled by the French - shrieked with joy and cries of "Go, Senegal!" "It's not a big deal," said David Mouton, the 29-year-old owner of a Left Bank sandwich shop where students had gathered to watch the game. "We know we'll win the next two matches and qualify."

From a giant screen outside Paris City Hall to small TV sets in corner cafes, the match was the focal point of the day. Even at the French Open tennis competition, some fans were eyeing the game in Seoul on a television screen at a center court cafe, or listening to it on radios outfitted with earpieces.

Fans, including Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, bemoaned the absence of the hero of the 1998 World Cup, Zinedine Zidane - out with a thigh injury - from the World Cup opener.

"The first match isn't a result. It's just a step," Raffarin said. "Once Zizou (Zidane) is back, things will be fine." President Jacques Chirac spoke by telephone with French team captain Marcel Desailly and coach Roger Lemerre to encourage them to "go beyond this failure and mobilise for coming matches," the President's office said.

"We would have won if Zidane had played. He's the magician of football," said Mehdi Jeljeli, a 17-year-old student who watched the game at a Left Bank cafe packed with students.

Besides Zidane's absence, France played with a second handicap, Jeljeli said. "France had too much pressure and Senegal was free, with nothing to win, nothing to lose," he said.