Mbaye Niang’s controversial goal in the 60th minute capped a chaotic first day in Group H of the World Cup as Senegal also benefited from an own goal in recording a 2-1 victory over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.
With Niang standing on the sideline waiting to be allowed back onto the pitch after being injured, Poland midfielder Grezgorz Krychowiak hit a dreadful back pass from the Senegal half towards keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Referee Nawaf Abdulla Shukralla waved Niang back into play, and the Torino striker dashed in chase of the ball, beating the on-rushing Szczesny and standing defender Jan Bednarek approximately 30 yards from goal and then scoring into the vacated net to give Senegal a 2-0 lead.
Poland pulled one back four minutes from time when Krychowiak directed his header from 10 yards on a free kick by Kamil Grosicki inside the right post. Its late push for an equalizer was foiled by Lions of Tarenga goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye, who bravely ventured out of the six-yard box to catch an outswinging corner kick in the 91st minute before making a punch save on a second corner in the third minute of stoppage time.
Senegal’s victory, coupled with Japan’s surprise win over Colombia, put the underdog teams atop Group H after the first pair of matches. The Lions of Tarenga also became the first African team to win in Russia after Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia all lost their opening matches.
Senegal started the brighter of the two teams, asking questions of Poland’s defense as it found space on the flanks through pace and send crosses into the box. Niang tried to pick out Sadio Mane on a pass after being sent through by Youssouf Sabaly on 19 minutes, but he miscued his cross well wide of the left post.
After Krosicki re-directed a header over the bar in the 21st minute, Poland star striker Robert Lewandowski got his first meaningful touch two minutes later as he controlled a pass with his back to goal, but his turn and left-footed effort from the top of the penalty area failed to test N’Diaye as it went comfortably wide of the right post.
Senegal, though, making its first World Cup appearance since 2002, caught a bit of luck as it took the lead on 38 minutes. Idrissa Gueye ran onto a pass from Niang in Poland’s final third, and his shot from just outside the penalty area skimmed off defender Thiago Cionek’s shin and inside the right post, leaving Szczesny flat-footed as it skipped into the net.
The Lions spurned an excellent chance to double their lead minutes later as Salif Sane’s unmarked downward header from six yards on a corner kick bounced well over the crossbar.
After the restart, Poland gained an excellent opportunity to pull the match level when Lewandowski was hauled down by Sane just outside the Senegal penalty area. The all-time leading scorer for Poland let fly with a well-struck right-footed effort that was curling for the upper right corner, but N’Diaye read the attempt well and punched the ball away while diving.
In the 56th minute, Lukasz Piszczek should have done better with a side-footed volley from 10 yards on the right after a cross by Maciej Rybus was knocked down into his path.
Shukralla issued three yellow cards, with Krychowiak getting his almost immediately after kickoff, and Senegal’s Sane and Gueye entering the book in the second half.
The Lions of Tarenga will play Japan on Sunday in Ekaterinburg to determine a potential group leader, while Poland and Colombia will square off in what could be an elimination match later that day in Kazan.