Final qualifier whets appetite for Olympic tournament
The spontaneous joy of the Senegal players dancing on the pitch in front of their small but passionate contingent of fans spoke volumes about what it meant to them to be part of the Olympic football tournament.
You could add to that the sight of a bling-heavy El-Hadji Diouf trying to blag his way into the Senegal dressing room by explaining to a steward that he is captain of the national team (he retired from international football in 2009) and a Premier League player (Doncaster were recently relegated to League One).
Then there were the supporters of the victorious African team waiting patiently outside in the cold for their triumphant heroes to emerge from their dressing room, enthusiastically surrounding Senegal-born Patrick Vieira when he appeared nearby.
If you wanted further evidence of the passion for Olympic football you could do worse than hear the noise created by the Oman supporters before Senegal's early goal, or the sight of Wigan's Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, proudly wearing his national team's scarf and desperate for them to qualify so he could be part of the Olympics.
Senegal qualified for the Olympic football tournament after a 2-0 win over Oman. Photo: Getty
On one level, Monday evening's play-off match at the City of Coventry Stadium was a straightforward contest for the 16th and final place in the men's Olympic football tournament.
Senegal, with their number six up front and number nine in the centre of defence, were deserved winners. They scored in the second minute and again right at the end to reach the Olympic football tournament for the first time and become the fourth African team after Gabon, Morocco and Egypt to book their place at this summer's Games.
But as the one test event for this summer's tournament, it was also a chance to gauge what we can expect when the action begins.
There has been a lot of negative publicity around the football tournament, specifically with the prolonged wrangling over the participation of a combined Team GB.
The football associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been vocal in their opposition of a combined side, fearing it will compromise their individual status within world governing body Fifa.
Then there are the sluggish ticket sales. Before kick-off on Monday the organising committee's head of sport competition David Luckes chose to focus on the one million that have been snapped up, but there are 1.5 million that remain unsold.
Luckes is hopeful that Tuesday's group-stage draw will lead to a sudden upsurge in demand, but he does not yet know when the next period of resales will start.
Not long before kick-off on Monday the sparse crowd must have been a worrying sight to everyone with concerns about ticket sales. The Mexican waves did not go very far before foundering in the vast oceans of empty seats.
But trying to sell a football match between Senegal and Oman on Monday evening to a public whose local team - Coventry City - have just been relegated from the Championship was never going to be easy. Throw in the chilly, overcast conditions and I thought the crowd of 11,611 was pretty decent.
They also made a fair old noise too, with the organisers doing all they could to foster a sense of competition. Flags of both teams were handed out before kick-off and people were asked to tweet different hashtags to determine which of Senegal and Oman had the most support from the watching fans.
The city of Coventry has high hopes that it will be a big winner out of the Olympics. Only Wembley has sold more tickets for the Games than what is arguably the least glamorous or prestigious host venue for the football tournament (the others are London, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff and Glasgow).
As far back as 2006 a collection of key bodies, educational establishments, businesses and trusts formed a partnership to try to get the most out of the Olympics for the area and appointed a 2012 co-ordinator, one of the first in the country.
When Villa Park pulled out as a host venue for the region in 2009 and Coventry eventually took its place, the possibilities moved up another level.
"The football is the jewel in the crown for Coventry," said Tom Clift, the 2012 operations manager for Coventry.
"It is a huge honour and a great opportunity; it puts us on the map nationally and internationally."
Coventry will host eight match days in the men's and women's tournaments, more than any other venue. The Olympic torches are being manufactured at a company close to the football ground and the city has instigated a series of cultural and sporting projects.
"Coventry has arguably got one of the largest Olympic engagement projects of anyone outside London," added Clift. "The city has had a tough time in the last half century and this is putting some pride back in."
Clift is hopeful that there will be a full house of 32,500 for some of the matches staged in Coventry. Prior to Monday's game the Senegal ambassador had been invited to look at the facilities and Clift would be pleased if, having worked hard to make both of Monday's teams feel welcome, the African side were drawn to play at Coventry again.
Senegal assistant coach Aliou Cisse, a former Birmingham City and Portsmouth midfielder, insisted after his team's 2-0 victory that he did not have any preference who his team were drawn against in the tournament.
He was also coy about the possibility of Newcastle duo Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba participating in the Olympics, stating only that although it was "important to have the best players possible" those who finally secured qualification on Monday deserved their chance because they had battled for months and months.
Senegal's victorious 18-man squad play in seven different countries, with four of the five home-based players hailing from the Diambars club co-founded by Vieira.
But it was clear from listening to the intelligent and dignified Cisse that whoever is eventually selected will understand the significance of playing for Senegal in the Olympics.
"It is an honour to represent our country and our continent," he said.
If everyone who participates feels the same way it should be a tournament to remember.