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FIFA World Cup 2018: Senegal braced for Lewandowski’s Poland

Robert Lewandowski, who finished the season as the Bundesliga’s top scorer for the third time with 29 goals for Bayern Munich, will be the key for Poland against Senegal, who will look up to Sadio Mane for inspiration.

football Updated: Jun 18, 2018 23:44 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,2018 FIFA World Cup,Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski netting 41 times in all competitions this season while Sadio Mane formed a devasting trio with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for Liverpool.(REUTERS)

The last time Senegal played at the World Cup, they made sure the world took notice as they stunned holders France in their opening game before going on a remarkable run to the quarterfinals.

This summer, Senegal have arrived in Russia with an arguably better squad than in 2002 but coach Aliou Cisse, who was captain 16 years ago, will know that achieving anything close to what they did then will be nothing short of remarkable.

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Spearheaded by Liverpool winger Sadio Mane, Senegal boast of a squad full of Europe-based stars. However, with Poland and Colombia, besides Japan, in their group, reaching the knockouts will be anything but easy.

The first test for Cisse’s side will be a fairly strong Poland coached by Adam Nawalka at the Spartak Stadium here on Tuesday. With Group H tipped to be a tight contest, Cisse is aware of the need to get off to a good start.

“We fully understand the importance of this game. We are ready for Poland,” he said at the pre-match press conference.

The Senegal coach made it clear football was the only thing on his mind when asked about his being the only black coach at this World Cup.

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“It’s a big honour to be here as coach of the Senegal national team. I fully enjoy the moment. Yes, I am the only black coach in this tournament but these debates disturb me because the colour of my skin is of very little importance. Football is a sport that unites the whole world.”

Senegal’s defence features Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly while Idrissa Gueye and skipper Cheikhou Kouyate are mainstays in midfield. With the likes of Diafra Sakho and Mame Biram Diouf aiding Sadio Mane in attack, there is enough firepower to upstage Poland.

Senegal suffered a late blow after defender Saliou Ciss was ruled out due to injury and Adama Mbengue has replaced him.

Lewandowski in focus

Poland will be banking on star forward Robert Lewandowski to continue from where he left off during the qualifiers, when he topped the charts with 16 goals.

With two third-place finishes in the past, Poland have a good World Cup record. Matching those two campaigns may be a tall ask but Poland know that with a good group stage and a little bit of luck, they can go deep into the competition given the squad at their disposal.

Lukasz Fabianski is expected to start in goal ahead of Juventus’ Wojciech Szczesny. In defence, Michal Pazdan, Artur Jędrzejczyk, Kamil Glik and Łukasz Piszczek could start for the side.

Grzegorz Krychowiak, Piotr Zielinski and Jakub Błaszczykowski have played crucial roles in Poland’s qualification and will be key in midfield.

With Arkadiusz Milik to back Lewandowski up front, Poland also have a strong strike force.

There will however be question marks over their defensive record. Poland conceded 14 goals, the highest by any team finishing in the top two of a group in qualification. That is an area Nawalka hasn’t been able to significantly improve upon since.

In their four matches this year, Poland have conceded two goals each against South Korea and Chile, and one against Nigeria. They managed a clean sheet only against unfancied Lithuania.

Failure to improve on that record can cost them dear.

First Published: Jun 18, 2018 11:17 IST