Poland coach Adam Nawalka blamed a plan gone awry and a “curious” goal for his side’s lacklustre 2-1 defeat by Senegal in their Group H opener.
The seeded team in the group, Poland had been hoping to inflict a fifth straight defeat on Russia 2018’s African contingent but they did not account for their opponents’ tactical discipline or good fortune.
Senegal’s first goal came when defender Thiago Cionek deflected a wayward Idrissa Gueye shot past Wojciech Szczesny after 37 minutes, and the second was the result of mix-up involving Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jan Bednarek and the cursed Szczesny, which left M’Baye Niang with an open goal on the hour.
Krychowiak would get one back with a header in the 86th minute but, as Nawalka would admit after the game, it was not nearly enough on a bad day at the office for the European side.
“We had a plan but plans are one thing and implementing them another,” said Nawalka afterwards.
“Statistically we had more of the ball but what counts is what ends up in the net. Our wingers didn’t do their jobs and the central midfielders weren’t very good either.
“We played better after the break but it wasn’t enough and we’re not very happy with two goals from our mistakes. But we’ll analyse the game, recuperate and get ready for the next game.”
Asked if the problem was the attacking 4-2-3-1 formation he picked, Nawalka said “no, that’s now why we lost”. For him the culprits were “a lack of accuracy and quality”, “unnecessary mistakes” and failing to match Senegal’s “aggression”.
He was not overly happy with Niang’s goal, either, as the Torino striker had been off receiving treatment but was waved on by the referee just as Krychowiak played a bouncing back pass towards Bednarek.
The Southampton defender did not see the Senegalese poacher until it was too late and he then poked the ball past Szczesny’s late-arriving cavalry and walked the ball into the net.
“The second goal was kind of curious, we had the ball and I’m convinced that Jan Bednarek didn’t see the player coming on,” said Nawalka.
“I don’t really know what happened. We were very surprised and the players thought a substitute was coming on.”
There was no such confusion in the Senegal camp, just elation.
Their coach, Aliou Cisse, who captained the team in the country’s last World Cup adventure in 2002, said his side because “we were disciplined, compact and aggressive”.
The youngest coach here at 42, Cisse said: “They had more of the ball but every time they made a mistake we hit them and forced them back.”
On whether this win meant Senegal were now carrying Africa’s hopes in this tournament, as they had done 16 years ago, Cisse said: “Absolutely, today Senegal represents the whole continent.
“We are Senegal, so we are proud to play for our country but I can see that the whole continent is supporting us, too. I got calls today from all over Africa and we are proud of that.
“But I think it’s too early to write the other African countries off just yet. OK, it’s important to get off to a good start but the second and third matches are important as well, so hopefully Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria will step up.”
Progress to the last 16 is now within Senegal’s grasp, which means the Lions of Teranga could meet England’s Three Lions for a place in the last eight.
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