The Demba Ba goal that put Chelsea into the semifinals of the Champions League gave him a chance to disprove Jose Mourinho’s “real strikers” comment but could mean much more than just European glory and a few smart quips. Indeed, it could show Senegal coach Alain Giresse what he wants to see ahead of African Nations Cup qualifying later this year and secure the striker’s presence in his national side after a whirlwind year.
The raw truth is that Senegal have to do something of significance on the international stage, and they have to do it soon. They will not participate in the 2014 World Cup and did not turn out at the most recent edition of the continental championship, played in 2013, either. They finished at the bottom of their group at the 2012 event, losing all three of their group matches.
Despite having a wealth of talented players, Senegal have struggled to get them to perform in recent months, and one of the reasons for that could be the treatment of one of the headline players: Ba. He was left out of the squad for over a year between March 2013 and March 2014. Giresse said it was because of a lack of game time at his club — where Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres were given opportunities ahead of him — but there appeared to be deeper issues.
In a World Cup qualifier in Conakry, Guinea, in March 2013, Ba missed a penalty against Angola. At that stage, Senegal had won one of two matches they had played, and victory would have separated them even further from the chasing pack. Ba’s miss confirmed what Giresse suspected: He simply wasn’t playing regularly enough to stay on top of his game, so he decided to do without him and “give chances to others.”
Ba did not play in the return match against Angola or the victories over Liberia and Uganda, which put Senegal on top of the group. He described his omission as “painful.” He also took no part in their play-off tie against Ivory Coast, the final step to Brazil. Senegal lost the first leg 3-1, making it difficult but not impossible to get to the World Cup. They drew the return match 1-1, which ruled them out of contention.
Who knows if they would have had a better chance with the speed, agility and placement of Ba, especially as his scoring rate at international level is significantly less than it is for European clubs. In 17 appearances for Senegal, Ba has found the back of the net just four times (23.5 percent) while he netted 29 times in 54 games for Newcastle United (53.7 percent).
By February, Ba had played a little more for the Blues and scored in Champions League matches against Schalke and Steaua Bucharest and Senegal needed him. He was recalled for their friendly against Mali, which was drawn 1-1, but it was not quite the result Giresse wanted, even with the striker back in the side.
Before his Champions League heroics, Ba hinted he may seek a move to Italy at the end of the season. Giresse was in favour of him looking for a club where he could play more regularly, but that place could turn out to be Chelsea if he can build on his last showing.
After lamenting his lack of proper front men when Chelsea went down 3-1 to PSG in the first leg, Mourinho didn’t have much to complain about when they won 2-0 on Tuesday night. He even had something nice to say about Ba, calling him a “good guy, a professional, a good group man.” Just the kind of thing Giresse wants to hear.