Prolific Poland striker Robert Lewandowski’s World Cup campaign opened in frustrating fashion Tuesday as Senegal starved him of possession as they claimed a 2-1 win in Moscow. The 29-year-old arrived in Russia newly crowned as the Bundesliga’s top scorer for the third time, and having netted a record 16 times for Poland in 10 World Cup qualifiers.
The Bayern Munich forward also admitted he had a point to prove after a disappointing Euro 2016, when he scored only once during Poland’s run to the quarter-finals. But Senegal ensured he saw little of the ball in their clash at Spartak Stadium, preventing him from having a shot on target until the 50-minute mark.
“We knew exactly how this team was going to move and that Lewandowski was their main threat, and we implemented the right system to play them,” rhe west Africans’ coach Aliou Cisse said. The match was billed as a shootout between strikers Lewandowski and Senegal’s Sadio Mane but neither found the net.
However, Mane helped set up Senegal’s opening goal and combined well with Torino winger Mbaye Niang to pressure Poland’s defence. The taller Lewandowski operated more as a traditional target man, trying to create options for Poland in the box when they were on attack.
But he was left isolated up front for long periods and was swarmed by the well-drilled Senegal defence when he did gain possession. He was closely marked by Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly but created a chance in the 22nd minute, neatly controlling Jakub Blaszczykowski’s pass only to shoot wide.
Lewandowski showed a willingness to drop back to midfield and perform what he has referred to as “donkey work”, but clearly missed the quality balls provided by the likes of Arjen Robben at Bayern. He made made a blistering run from midfield early in the second half and was almost through on goal before being brought down by Salif Sane, who earned himself a yellow card.
Lewandowski curled the resulting free kick beautifully over the wall but Senegalese ‘keeper Khadim Ndiaye dived to his left to push the ball away. The striker continued to toil but his night was summed up in the 81st minute when he controlled a pass in the box, only for three Senegal defenders to surround and dispossess him.
Lewandowski, who has been speculatively linked with Real Madrid after his agent last month said he wanted “a new challenge”, will hope for better returns when Poland play Colombia on Sunday.