Back in the World Cup for the first time since 2002, Senegal sent a warning shot that the African side may be poised for another surprise run.
Senegal beat Poland 2-1 in Moscow on Tuesday, riding an own goal and one from Mbaye Niang that capped a bizarre sequence before holding on for the three points. Grzegorz Krychowiak pulled one back late with a header, but Poland couldn't find the equalizer and joins Colombia in looking up at Senegal and Japan after one match of play in Group H.
The opening stages of the match featured a couple of half-chances for the Lions of Teranga, both created by Niang. The Torino forward sent in a dangerous cross that forced Wojciech Szczesny into a diving stop, and moments later, from a similar spot, played a dangerous cutback ball that forced Poland into a clearance in the eighth minute.
Niang shanked a golden opportunity in the 19th minute, after left back Youssouf Sabaly did fabulously to intercept a pass intended for Lukasz Piszczek, beat a defender one-on-one, then split the defense with a pass to his streaking forward. Niang, presented with the opportunity to shoot on frame or square the ball for a trailing teammate, fired with little accuracy, putting his chance well wide of the goal.
Robert Lewandowski's first real chance came in the 23rd minute, and it would've been spectacular had it come off. A deflected layoff pass bounced in his path, where he took a touch, turned and fired on frame. It wasn't hit with full power, though, and bounced harmlessly toward waiting goalkeeper Khadim Ndiaye.
Senegal took the lead in the 37th minute, with an ugly goal following a well-worked sequence. It started with Niang winning a challenge in midfield, with the ball working its way to Sadio Mane in the center. He laid it off to the right for Idrissa Gueye, whose 20-yard blast hit off Thiago Cionek and went by a helpless and wrong-footed Szczesny to make it 1-0.
Lewandowski had his first dangerous chance five minutes into the second half off a free kick. He was taken down while streaking forward by Salif Sane, and on the ensuing set piece from over 20 yards out, he forced Ndiaye into an acrobatic, flying save.
Senegal doubled the lead at the hour mark on an unusual sequence. Niang was off on the sideline waiting to come on after a brief injury, and after racing onto the field upon the official's signal, he pounced on a backpass. With Szczesny coming way off his line to try and play the ball, the goalkeeper whiffed, allowing Niang to coast in unencumbered to tap into an empty net and make it 2-0.
Poland came close to pulling one back in the 70th minue. Piszczek crossed from the right for Arkadiusz Milik, but the forward's flick-on went wide of the right post, keeping it at 2-0 Senegal.
The Poles did slice the lead in half in the 86th minute. It came off another hectic sequence in which it was unclear whether the officials should have allowed play to start, but off a free kick, Grzegorz Krychowiak headed back across goal and in to make it 2-1.
Poland pushed for an equalizer, but Ndiaye twice came off his line to make necessary saves, helping Senegal close out the victory.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich Town), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus)
Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Thiago Cionek (SPAL), Kamil Glik (AS Monaco), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warszawa), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warszawa), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (VfL Wolfsburg), Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Brom), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht)
Manager: Adam Nawalka
Goalkeepers: Abdoulaye Diallo (Stade Rennes), Alfred Gomis (SPAL), Khadim Ndiaye (Horoya)
Defenders: Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor), Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Kara Mbodii (Anderlecht), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Salif Sane (Hannover 98), Moussa Wague (Eupen)
Midfielders: Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United), Alfred Ndiaye (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Badou Ndiaye (Stoke City), Cheikh Ndoye (Birmingham City), Ismaila Sarr (Stade Rennes)
Forwards: Keita Balde (Monaco), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Mbaye Niang (Torino), Diafra Sakho (Stade Rennes), Moussa Sow (Bursaspor)
Manager: Aliou Cissé