Saturday 18 June 2016, 13:23

Old rivalry, new continent

In 1992, Senegal beat Kenya 3-0 in a group match at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals. One of the goals for the hosts was scored by striker Souleyman Sane, while his Kenyan counterpart Mike Okoth failed to find the back of the net. Over 20 years later the sons of the two strikers could be facing each other in another continental competition. However, unlike the match-up between their fathers, it will not be in Africa as Leroy Sane and Divock Origi have thrown in their lot with the countries of their birth: in the UEFA European Championship in France.

Souleyman Sane spent 11 years playing in the first and second division in Germany, and his son Leroy Sane was born there in 1996. Last year he played his first game for Die Mannschaft. Belgian international Divock Origi is a year older than the German international, born in Belgium during the time his father Mike Okoth was a professional there.

With Belgium and Germany both among the favourites at EURO 2016, the two players could well face each other at some stage in the competition. Mike Okoth told FIFA.comhe can see some similarities between his erstwhile opponent and his son. “Both are incredibly fast and technically gifted. It is easy to see where Leroy gets his ability from.”

The Kenyan football legend, who appeared at a third Africa Cup of Nations finals with the Harambee Stars as a 36-year-old in 2004, is supportive of his son's decision to play for the Belgian team. “He always knew that I played for the Kenyan national team. We always went over to Kenya, so he has that connection and that feeling for Kenya, but at the same time these are children that that are born and you know it is here that they spent most of the time.

“So when he was growing up, he started playing for the youth teams in Belgium and for him it was automatic that he would play for the national team of Belgium if he got the chance. And that was his dream.”

Okoth added that he had been surprised that his son been called up to the national squad so fast, even being included in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ squad, where he became Belgium's youngest-ever goal scorer at the World Cup when he tallied the only goal of the game against Russia. “It came so quick, sooner than we expected. But he took his chance and was not scared about anything,” Okoth says proudly about Origi.

Fearlessness is also a characteristic that Sane sees in his son. “I am surprised that he is so laid back,” the former international told German media recently, adding: “If you are a young player and you take on players that you have been watching on TV, teams like Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid, most players would be really nervous. But he seems unfazed.”

The seed does not fall far from the tree

Sane's mother, Regina Weber, won a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics for Germany. “I think I have my sleekness and athleticism from her,” Leroy said, with Souleyman quick to pip in: “But his speed comes from me

Former Senegal team-mate Lamine N'Diaye, who was also in the 1992 squad, fondly remembers playing with Sane. “He was a good team-mate and a very nice person. I can see that his son has many similarities. He is also a good striker of the ball. He is very fast and takes on opponents with a short burst of speed.”

For N'Diaye, who moved into coaching at the end of his career and had a stint in charge of Les Lions de la Teranga as well as five-time African Champions League winners TP Mazembe, it is not significant that the sons could face each other at the Euros. “This is what football is like at the moment. We live in a rather mixed society. If an African player has two foreign parents, he can choose to play for either side. If he was born in Europe, he will have the choice between his country of birth or the country of origin.”

And this, in turn, could well lead to a scenario that sees the sons of two African legends face each other at the Euros – just as their fathers did at the Africa Cup of Nations so many years ago.