Senegal led through a Poland own goal and M’Baye Niang’s opportunistic strike before their outplayed rivals pulled one goal back in the dying minutes.
An inspired performance with a helping hand lent by the indecisiveness of their opponents helped Senegal pull off a 2-1 win over Poland in their opening Group H encounter at the Spartak Stadium here on Tuesday.
Poland fans had filled up large sections of the ground at least an hour before kick-off, and once the game commenced, chants of ‘Polska! Polska!’ filled the stadium. A handful of Senegal fans were scattered in two corners of the venue.
Nine minutes into the game, an across from the left flank by M’Baye Niang saw the Polish defense panicking. They barely managed to clear the ball from a rather harmless position, but it was the sort of indecisiveness that would mar Poland’s evening. Niang continued to cause trouble on Poland’s right wing as Lukasz Piszczek often struggled to keep track of the man he was tasked with keeping in check.
In the 12th minute, he was brought down by Grzegorz Krychowiak in the middle of the pitch, earning the latter a yellow card. At one corner of the stadium, the Senegalese fans, who had been relatively quiet until this point, started beating the drums they had brought into the stands, to the accompaniment of clapping and the blowing of trumpets. Momentarily, the traditional Senegalese Mbalax performance had drowned the ‘Polska’ chants.
The music would continue throughout the evening as Senegal started growing into the game. Like their team on the pitch, the energy among the fans never flagged. While nothing came out of Senegal’s free kick, they came close to scoring six minutes later when Youssouf Sabaly intercepted on the left flank and sped down the wing.
He beat a Polish defender before laying it for Niang, who scuffed his shot from a scoring position. The Senegalese persistence paid off in the 38th minute, albeit with a bit of luck. Niang beat Piszczek to the ball on the left wing and quickly passed to Sadio Mane.
The Liverpool star, hemmed in by the Polish defense, slipped the ball to Idrissa Gueye, whose shot first hit Michal Pazdan and then took a deflection off Thomas Cionek to go in, leaving keeper Wojciech Szczesny a spectator. Senegal controlled proceedings for the rest of the game and at the hour mark doubled their lead following a defensive mishap.
A back pass from Krychowiak fell well short of the onrushing Szczesny and Niang got a touch of the ball to get past the keeper, before hammering into an empty net from close range The supply line to Poland striker Robert Lewandowski was absent throughout the game, but in the 86th minute, Krychowiak gave his side some hope as he headed in from a free kick, reducing the deficit.
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse immediately waved his right hand, signaling his players to stay calm. They did and Poland failed to threaten the goal again as the surprise package of the 2002 World Cup – Senegal beat France and reached the quarterfinals — got off to a winning start.