Thursday 19 July 2018

Cisse hails victory for all of Africa as Senegal punish woeful Poles

Poland 1 Senegal 2

Cisse: Delighted with victory. Photo: Reuters
Cisse: Delighted with victory. Photo: Reuters

The tightest of World Cup groups becomes tighter still. On their return to this tournament for the first time since their remarkable run to the quarter-finals in South Korea and Japan, Senegal produced Group H's second upset in a day by beating an often-underwhelming and at times diabolical Poland.

If the own goal by centre-half Thiago Cionek that gave Senegal their lead was not bad enough, Mbaye Niang was allowed to controversially double the west Africans' advantage on the hour mark after catastrophic blunders by Grzegorz Krychowiak and Wojciech Szczesny - an under-hit backpass and a ill-judged attempt to clear - combined.

Poland's Grzegorz Krychowiak and Senegal's Mame Biram Diouf rise for the ball. Photo: Reuters
Poland's Grzegorz Krychowiak and Senegal's Mame Biram Diouf rise for the ball. Photo: Reuters

Krychowiak, a midfielder exiled at and then relegated with West Bromwich Albion this season, would reduce the arrears with a header late on but too late.

Aliou Cissé's Senegal will not strike fear into too many at this World Cup but were undoubtedly the better of the two sides and deserving of the three points.

Cissé, however, cared little about the style and hailed a win for "the whole African continent" after the first for an African side at this tournament after Egypt, Nigeria, Tunisia and Morocco all suffered defeat in their opening games.

Cisse, who captained Senegal on their fairytale journey through the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, believes it was important for his side to win after other African representatives disappointed.

Poland's Robert Lewandowski watches Grzegorz Krychowiak's goal cross the line. Photo: Reuters
Poland's Robert Lewandowski watches Grzegorz Krychowiak's goal cross the line. Photo: Reuters

"Senegal represent the whole African continent," he said. "We are Senegal but I can guarantee the whole of Africa is supporting the Senegal team. I get calls and lots of people are proud and we are proud to represent the African continent.

"It's a little bit too early. Winning first match of course means you start at the right pace. The second and third match are also important. I hope Egypt, Nigeria, Tunisia and Morocco will stand up. There is a lot of quality in the other African teams."

The win provoked memories of the 2002 campaign when Senegal beat then-World Cup holders France in the opening game of the tournament.

Cissé, who played in that game, said that this most recent victory did not quite compare in terms of cultural significance, but the three points is just as important.

Poland's Wojciech Szczesny keeps the ball out. Photo: Reuters
Poland's Wojciech Szczesny keeps the ball out. Photo: Reuters

"Not the same thing, not the same taste," he said when the comparison was made. "France and Senegal have a history, France colonised Senegal, so when we faced France as opening match, that was quite exceptional.

"Things are different here but this was just as important as the victory we got against France."

After Japan's victory earlier in the day against Colombia, Sunday's game between yesterday's victors means whoever is victorious in that clash will be guaranteed a place in the last 16.

The group appears so tightly-contested that Poland can retain hopes of qualification but will need a vast improvement on yesterday's display. Yet if they do, neither Belgium nor England - the favourites to progress in adjacent Group G - should not be overly worried about failing to reach the quarter-finals.

Poland's Maciej Rybus in action. Photo: Reuters
Poland's Maciej Rybus in action. Photo: Reuters

Irish Independent

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