Senegal is no stranger to surprises at the World Cup. In its only other appearance in 2002, the debutants made a miracle run to the quarterfinals with notable wins over France and Sweden.
It kept the shocks in Group H going on Tuesday afternoon, taking down world No. 8 Poland 2-1 at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
The appearances by both clubs broke considerable World Cup droughts. While Senegal broke a 16-year drought on soccer's largest stage, Poland is back for the first time since 2006.
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Behind striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored 41 goals in all competitions for Bayern Munich last season, Poland is ranked eighth in the world and was expected to come away with the three points against No. 27 Senegal, who was relying mostly on the playmaking skills of Liverpool man Sadio Mane.
It was a self-inflicted wound that put Poland behind as a shot from Idrissa Gana was deflected by defender Thiago Cionek where goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who was following the natural path of the ball, could only watch in horror as the redirected ball trickled into the back of the net to put Senegal up 37 minutes in:
What a deflection!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 19, 2018
Senegal take the lead after Idrissa Gana's shot gets deflected into the back of the net. pic.twitter.com/hYPtf0cNgu
Poland pushed for an equalizer in the second half, but disaster struck in the 60th minute when a long ball played into the Polish half was immediately descended upon by Mbaye Niang, who was allowed to enter the pitch as the ball crossed midfield after he was helped off to receive treatment to an injury. An onrushing Szczesny, almost 30 yards from his goal, could not beat the Senegalese man to the ball as Niang blew past an unsuspecting Jan Bednarek, took a touch around the keeper and simply passed the ball into the goal uncontested:
Niang slips behind the defense to score Senegal's second goal of the day! pic.twitter.com/z7zJWiqxxz— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 19, 2018
Poland protested the call upon deaf ears as the official Nawaf Shukralla clearly indicated that Niang could re-enter the field of play, though the timing was questionable to say the least.
The eighth-ranked team in the world finally broke through in the 86th minute when Grzegorz Krychowiak headed home a ball from a free kick over the top, ensuring that the last moments of the match were plenty nervy for Senegal:
Poland pulls one back!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 19, 2018
Will they get a late equalizer?? pic.twitter.com/L7JazWvIIs
But Poland could not find the equalizer as a late corner yielded nothing for the white and reds, ensuring it would lose a World Cup opener for a third-consecutive time. It has not won its first game at the competition since 1974.
The three points for Senegal has officially flipped Group H on its head. Along with Japan, who defeated 10-man Colombia earlier on Tuesday, the two minnows of the foursome now sit atop the standings.