They say save the best until last, and that was certainly the case with Senegal. The last of five African teams to play at this World Cup, Senegal’s victory over Poland also marked not only the first points for the continent but also the first win after previous attempts of Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia had fell short of expectations.
Senegal’s victory was a slight shock when you consider Poland are ranked eighth in the world and have one of the premier strikers in the world in Robert Lewandowski. However, Senegal boast a strong squad with the Merseyside duo of Sadio Mané and Idrissa Gueye of Liverpool and Everton respectively. Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli also represents one of the best defensive options at the World Cup and will be highly sought after this summer. Koulibaly, born in France to Senegalese parents, was convinced to play for Les Lions de la Téranga over Les Bleus even after French coach Didier Deschamps called him up to the squad.
With the best start of any African side, Senegal hope to repeat their exploits from the last time they were in the competition in 2002. Beating the holders France in their first game Senegal would advance to the quarter-final after beating Sweden in the round of 16. Unfortunately, they would lose to Turkey and with it dashed the hopes of an African side reaching the semi-finals for the first time.
Earlier in the day we saw surprise package and quarter-finalists of the last World Cup, Colombia, lose their first match of the tournament against Japan, who secured only their fifth ever win at a World Cup finals tournament. Colombia started without their star man James Rodriguez, who was injured. Matters got even worse for Colombia after Colombia’s Carlos Sanchez batted away Shinji Kagawa’s shot after Davinson Sanchez’s poor positioning allowed Yuya Osako through on goal just three minutes in. Kagawa slotted away the resulting penalty and Colombia would play with 10-men for 87 minutes. After a clever and crafty free-kick by Juan Quintero the sides went in drawing. Before Osako got the goal, his performance deserved, nodding home from a corner.
In the final match, hosts Russia continued on from their excellent first match against Saudi Arabia with a fine performance against Egypt, who had Mo Salah back in their starting line-up after his shoulder injury in the Champions League Final. Russia 3-1 victory marked the best ever start by a host nation. Overtaking Italy’s 1934 campaign, who also scored eight but conceded two, one more than Russia.
Day six of the World Cup made pleasant viewing given my hangover from the England match. After all, football is coming home.