Senegal World Cup hero Papa Bouba Diop put nation on the map before tragic death

The tragic passing of Senegal's World Cup icon Papa Bouba Diop sent shockwaves through African football 20 years after he put his country on the footballing map on the biggest stage possible.

This week, Kalidou Koulibaly led tributes to the former midfielder, two years after he died following a battle with a long-term illness reported to be Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Koulibaly, who wore Diop's iconic 19 on his armband as a tribute during their win over Ecuador that booked a tie against England, took time to remember the national hero alongside fans and team-mates alike.

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While thoughtful supporters had 19 painted on the backs in relation to his international lucky number, Diop shirts and banners were seen in the crowd alongside the message 'true lion never dies'.

Diop's iconic status was cemented thanks to his winning goal against reigning world champions France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup, with Senegal going on to make the quarter-finals.

Standing at 6ft 5in, the gentle giant moved to the Premier League with Fulham in 2004, where he was beloved by supporters who nicknamed him 'The Wardrobe', while he gained his reputation as a gentle giant.

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During his time at Craven Cottage he scored a stunning long-range equaliser against Manchester United in the closing stages – as well as exciting pundit Chris Kamara after being played as a makeshift striker.

Further spells in England came with Portsmouth where he won the FA Cup, West Ham and Birmingham before his retirement in 2013, having also made 63 appearances for his country scoring 11 goals.

Tributes to his passing in November of 2020 included Fulham's Ademola Lookman holding up a Senegal shirt after scoring in the Premier League, as well as a minute's silence at his former clubs.

Now celebrating their journey back into the World Cup knock-out stages for the first time since Diop's heroics, the squad have certainly not forgotten his importance.

Koulibaly told beIN Sports after he scored in the 2-1 victory: "It was a special day for Senegalese. Our first goal was for Papa Bouba Diop. Today is the anniversary of his death. We really wanted to do something big for him today.

"He was our childhood, he was everything to Senegalese football. He was a big loss for us. Today is for him. It's a great honour, I have his number on my armband."

Senegal have been fittingly led into their last 16 clash against England by Aliou Cisse, who captained the side inspired by Diop back in 2002.

Another fitting reflection on his footballing ability came from Manchester United legend Paul Scholes, who named him among this three toughest opponents.

He said: "There's one more that people won't think of. We used to play against Portsmouth.

"Do you remember Papa Bouba Diop? Big, massive. They used to call him The Wardrobe! You get involved physically with him and you're wasting your time."

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