The defender first played for Les Lions in the 2007 finals in Brazil, when the west Africans appeared on the global stage for the first time. He has since been in the squad every time they have qualified for the showpiece event of beach soccer and is now looking forward to Portugal, where the team has been drawn into Group A, where they will face the hosts, Japan and Argentina.
Senegal and Sylla played their first match at the Beach Soccer World Cup against Japan, beating their opponents 4-1. “But since then, the team has changed. They have a good coach from Brazil, Ruy Ramos. He has turned them into a really good side. Although we do not know much about Argentina, we do know that their captain Luciano Franceschini is very good.”
Sylla says his best-ever game at the World Cup is Senegal's 5-2 victory against Uruguay in 2007 “It was a great match. It was physical and tactical,” he recalls about the game in which he scored his first goal at the finals.
He now looks forward to sharing his experiences with his younger team-mates. “I will tell them to focus from the beginning to the end of the competition and try to represent our country with honor. They should concentrate on teamwork and listen to the coach and have respect for our opponents.”
Although the 29-year-old has won the Senegalese league with US Ouakam, he is not a full-time professional. “I work as a physical education teacher,” explains Sylla, who is married and a has a daughter.
Sylla and his team-mates qualified for Portugal at the CAF African Beach Soccer Championships in the Seychelles in April. Les Lions finished runners-up after losing the final in a penalty shoot-out against Madagascar. “I was disappointed to lose against Madagascar, but we still achieved our main goal, which was to qualify for the World Cup finals.”
He is particularly pleased to captain the side in Portugal. “It is a big honour, but also a huge responsibility. I try my best all the time and aim to keep the confidence of my coach.”
For coach Ibrahima Ndiaye, having somebody like Sylla in the side is vital. “All his experience is so important for the rest of the team. He can show that you can overcome obstacles to succeed and progress in life.”
The coach describes the defender as his confidant. “He relays all my messages to the players on the field and he is captain because of his qualities. I can see him as a future coach. He is well respected by his team-mates, who listen to him.”
Ndiaye is sure that Sylla could easily have played professional football for one of the big teams in Senegal. “He is a good player in classic football and could have gone far. But he wanted to concentrate on his studies to become a teacher and that prevented him from pursuing a professional career. He had all the qualities to become a great attacking defender, but opted out because he chose the route as a scholar.”