The UK ambassador to Senegal has described the amazing atmosphere the upcoming England versus Senegal match has created in the “football mad” country”, as well as the “banter” it has generated between foreign ministers about who will win.
Juliette John told the PA news agency that England and Senegal are united through their “passion for football”.
“Senegal is about as football mad, if not more, than the UK is, so this is really the top thing on people’s minds here,” Ms John said from Dakar, Senegal.
“Everyone has been watching the matches with bated breath here. In fact, some people are so intense about it, they can’t even watch the match.”
“Obviously it will be a national tragedy if England beat Senegal, and vice versa, but I think generally the atmosphere is very positive.”
She added: “I think it will be very tight.
“The Senegalese team is very strong defensively, the English team are very strong in attacking midfield.
“It will be interesting to see what both teams do, their tactics and who they put on the pitch.
“Obviously I want to say that England’s going to win, but I think it’s going to be an interesting match regardless.”
Football matches seem to have the ability to unite people across Senegal, even those who may not be interested in the sport.
“They show the games on large screens across the city and people go and watch it together,” she said.
“You don’t even need to watch the match to know how it’s going, because any time Senegal scores, there’s just an amazing amount of noise you can hear pretty much wherever you are.
“When Senegal wins, everyone piles into the streets in their cars, tooting their horns, on the beach.
“I think the Senegalese team are also really proud as they see themselves as not only representing Senegal, but representing Africa as well.”
She said there has been “a lot of banter” in person and on social media about who is going to win, in particular between the foreign minister of Senegal Aissata Tall Sall and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, which she has been following on Twitter.
“It’s really quite amusing and very good natured.”
Mr Sall tweeted to James Cleverly: “Football is also another angle of diplomacy that succeeds in uniting nations.
“It makes me think that early Monday morning, my friend James Cleverly…from UK will come with fair play to Dakar for the celebration of the victory of the Lions against England!”
Mr Cleverly replied with: “Three Lions are better than one Aissata Tall Sall. Good luck on Sunday. You’ll always be welcome in London to see the trophy,” followed by emojis of a trophy and football.
The match between England and Senegal takes place at 7pm on Sunday.