- Cynthia Nzetia chats to two Senegal supporters in Russia
- Their trip took them 25 hours, but they’re still smiling
- One believes Senegal will do better than they did in 2002
By Cynthia Nzetia with Senegal
Now aged 24 and 25 respectively, Billmahmuud and Moustapha were only boys when Senegal contested their first FIFA World Cup™ in 2002 – their only one to date – and were far too young to travel to Korea Republic and Japan to cheer on the Lions of Teranga.
Sixteen years on, they have made the journey to Russia to celebrate Senegal’s return to the global stage. To say that the trip was an arduous one would be something of an understatement, as they explained.
“We had a six-hour flight from Dakar to Istanbul, where we spent another six hours waiting for our next flight on to Moscow,” said Billmahmuud. “Then, two-and-a-half hours later, we were in the Russian capital.”
Taking up the story, Moustapha added: “We arrived in Moscow at three in the morning and we had to wait at the airport for ten hours before flying on to Kiski, where we got the train to Kaluga.”
Feels like home
After a gruelling 25 hours on the move, the two friends finally arrived at Senegal’s Russia 2018 base. Their first impressions?
“It’s a very peaceful town, but you can feel the excitement the Lions are generating,” said Moustapha, the older of the two. “There are streets decorated in the Senegal colours and it almost feels like home for us.”
Sporting their Senegal shirts, Billmahmuud and Moustapha would not have missed this opportunity for anything in the world.
“First and foremost, we love our football, especially good football, but it’s our duty as Senegalese people to be here and support our Lions,” explained Moustapha. “In 2002 we were still at school and we dreamed of a moment like this, of seeing Senegal in the World Cup. And here we are. I’m so excited that I don’t even feel tired, even though I’ve been travelling for more than a day.”
Flying the flag
“Thanks to the Fan ID, we haven’t had any administrative problems,” said Moustapha in reference to the ‘passport’ that fans need to show to obtain their tickets and which allows them to travel throughout Russia without a visa during the competition. The document also means supporters can take free train rides between host cities, though Billmahmuud and Moustapha have already done more than their fair share of travelling.
Supporting your national team at the World Cup is an honour that does not come everyone’s way, and with Senegal among the happy few at Russia 2018, these two intrepid fans are delighted to be here.
“We’ve got a good side and I’m convinced we’re going to do even better than in 2002. This generation is going to go down in history,” said a visibly excited Billmahmuud, while Moustapha expressed his annoyance at having left something behind: “The only downside to our trip is that I forgot to pack my flag.”
Thankfully for him, help is at hand: “It’s no big deal, though, because my father will bring it with him. He’ll be in the stands for the first match, against Poland.”
Though his journey will be a long one, he will no doubt be wearing a big smile for the occasion.