JOHANNESBURG - Senegal finally gave Africa's soccer fans something to celebrate Tuesday night when they defeated Poland 2-1 in a pulsating World Cup Group H match at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
It mattered little for the victory-starved continent that the Lions of Teranga were helped by two lucky goals, a deflection and a score by a player who was clearly unnoticed by the Polish defence when he joined the field from the touchline.
What the fans will remember is that the match finished 2-1 in favour of their team of the moment. The Africans took a 37th-minute lead when Idrissa Gueye’s shot took a nasty deflection off defender Thiago Cionek to nestle in the net.
Then, on the hour, a moment of madness allowed striker Mbaye Niang to sneak in from the touchline and put Senegal in the driving seat. Poland pulled one back through Grzegorz Krychowiak’s late header, but it was too little too late to stop the African celebrations.
Fans are hoping the Senegalese win inspires Tunisia, Morocco and Nigeria to recover from their opening losses to get the African campaign back on track. Denied yet another chance to host the greatest sporting spectacle in the world, Morocco would love nothing more than to put one over a football superpower.
The Atlas Lions, whose national association last week lost out in their fifth bid to host the Fifa World Cup, take on European champions Portugal in their second Group B match of Russia 2018, with some belief that they can stop Cristiano Ronaldo and company.
Granted they were beaten 1-0 by Iran in their opening match, but such was their dominance in that clash that Herve Renard will have something to build on. After all, they also lost to an injury-time own goal.
Yet the North Africans will know that against Portugal they will not have as much possession as they did in their first match. And with another defeat guaranteed to end their participation, expect a much more disciplined showing from Morocco.
In the group’s other match, former Bafana Bafana coach Carlos Queiroz must be relishing the prospect of leading his Iranian side against a number of players he has worked with previously. The Portuguese coach was previously in charge of Real Madrid, whose Sergio Ramos captains Spain, and Queiroz will have some insights to dish out to his players.
Top of the table after that fortuitous win over Morocco, Iran would love nothing more than to stun the world and qualify ahead of the former world champions and reigning European kings, Portugal. That, however, will be easier said than done - what with Spain’s Diego Costa seemingly in deadly mood as he showed with his brace against Portugal.
In Group A, two-time champions Uruguay should prove too strong for whipping boys Saudi Arabia and march to the Round of 16 with their second win of the tournament.