Our player interview series on World Cup memories and moments turns to Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who was involved in Qatar until the last-16 stage.
Defeat by England brought an end to Koulibaly’s second World Cup finals tournament, seven years after making his Senegal debut. He has since gone on to win over 60 caps for the Lions of Teranga, captaining the team to their maiden Africa Cup of Nations triumph earlier this year.
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However it was the World Cup that provided him with some never-to-be forgotten moments in his formative days…
First World Cup you remember?
I was born in France and grew up there so in 1998 when France won the World Cup in Paris, I was seven years old and I remember watching on the TV that team with players like Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Laurent Blanc and Zinedine Zidane winning the World Cup.
It was amazing for me as a French guy with Senegalese origin and those players were really my idols. I wanted to look like them and be a player like them. Those are my first memories.
What are your memories of watching growing up?
After that in 2002 I had the luck that my teacher at school was also my trainer so I could watch the first game, which was France versus Senegal. I remember that it was at 1.30pm in the afternoon and the teacher told us to turn around and look at the TV – he put the game on in the school.
It was amazing for me. I had my heart broke in two for that game because it was France vs Senegal so I didn’t know who to support. My best friend was Senegalese also like me so we were supporting Senegal and when they won it, there was a big party where I lived. Outside everybody was dancing, making noise and music in the street, it was so beautiful. Even the French guys I grew up with were dancing with us because, even though they lost this first game, they were so happy.
For me, it was the beginning of something in my head because now I see the diversity so all people can grow up together and have love together. That was a big image in my mind forever.
Memorable World Cup moment?
Obviously 2002 was the last time Senegal got to the World Cup until 2018 when we went to Russia so it was a very long time, 16 years without a World Cup for Senegal. It was so long. When I went for my first time in Russia, it was amazing for me. It was my dream and I was really happy when I reached that World Cup.
There was the Bafana Bafana World Cup in South Africa which was so good. They made all African people really proud of them because they played good football. We also had Nigeria with Jay-Jay Okocha and those players.
It’s important to have a lot of good teams from Africa because of course an African team has still not won the World Cup. You can see that African football is progressing and moving forward, which makes me really happy.
Favourite World Cup goal?
Zidane’s first goal in the 1998 final against Brazil, the header. He scored two headers in that game but the first one was so beautiful.
I also have to say Papa Bouba Diop’s goal against France in 2002 because I remember everything about it. There was a run from El Hadji Diouf from the side and after he crossed, Bouba Diop managed to score. That’s a goal I really remember and I was really happy for Senegal.
Best players you’ve seen at a World Cup?
There are too many! Zidane was a massive player for France, him and Lilian Thuram, but also Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Taffarel, Fabian Barthez in goal for France, I remember all of those players.
Croatia had also a good team at that time so I have a lot of players in my mind when I think about this. The most important one is probably Ronaldo, El Phenomenon. Even in 2002 with his famous haircut, he was amazing! Ronaldinho as well, all those players are really important, massive players and I really loved watching them.
What are your memories of playing at a World Cup in 2018?
For us it was amazing and a big performance just to reach the World Cup. My first objective when I reached the national team was to win the African Cup and the second was to play in a World Cup, so I was really happy when we did it.
Maybe we had some regrets because we didn’t pass the first round and with the team and players we had, we should have got through.
We went out on yellow cards [Senegal were eliminated based on a fair play measure after finishing the group stage with exactly the same record as Japan] which gave us a lot of pain and heartbreak but it also made us stronger and helped us win the African Cup this year.
Favourite World Cup kit?
I didn’t have French kits but there is a picture my mother sent me recently of me in the Senegal kit with Salif Diao’s name on my shirt. I was about 10 or 11 years old so it was around the 2002 World Cup.
That was the kit I had growing up. We didn’t have so many national team shirts but I remember I had this one.
What memories do you have of playing in junior World Cups?
I played in the Under-20 World Cup with the French national team. It was in Colombia and it was amazing for me. We finished in fourth place but for me it was such a big tournament because at the time I was playing in the second division in France with Metz and it was not expected for me to play in this World Cup.
I made a good performance in the Toulon Tournament just before and after that the coach called me up to the World Cup in 2011. I played with big players like Alexandre Lacazette, Antoine Griezmann, Gael Kakuta and it made me grow up really fast in my first big tournament.
Stadium you’d like to play a World Cup final in?
For sure it would be in Senegal with our new stadium. We played the first game there in March and it was amazing to see the support there and the quality of the stadium. I was so proud to see a stadium like this in Africa and especially in Senegal.
We are one of the first African countries to have a stadium like this and I wish we could play a World Cup final there one day, but first we have to see if we can organise another African World Cup.