Cisse and Senegal give cause for African celebration

Africa finally got its first win at the 2018 World Cup courtesy of Senegal's 2-1 defeat of Poland.

The celebrations won't be confined to the streets of Dakar on Tuesday night, the African continent will also raise a glass to Aliou Cisse and the Lions of Teranga.

Senegal arrived in Moscow painfully aware they represented the final chance for an African side to claim a win in the first round of World Cup matches after defeats for Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia.

It was a challenge they took up with gusto.

Once Idrissa Gueye opened up a cagey first half-hour with a shot that hit Michal Pazdan and Thiago Cionek before wrongfooting Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, there seemed little doubt as to where the points were heading.

Mbaye Niang added a controversial second, running straight from the touchline, having been ushered back on after injury, to beat Szczesny to the ball and tap in.

But they deserved their moments of fortune against a Poland side, who, quite frankly, deserved nothing, even though Grzegorz Krychowiak provided a glimmer of hope with a late header.

With star man Robert Lewandowski shorn of service, and strike partner Arkadiusz Milik enduring the mother of all nightmares, Adam Nawalka's men were devoid of inspiration, prompting howls of derision from the red and white hordes at Spartak Stadium.

But their problems should not detract from Senegal's achievement, for there is an awful lot to like about Senegal, both on the pitch and off it.

In Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr they have two of the paciest attacking players at the tournament and, alongside beanpole Niang, they will present a threat irrespective of the opposition.

It's at the back, however, where they perhaps differ from African teams of yore.

Led by Napoli powerhouse Kalidou Koulibaly, they appear a disciplined, mature defensive unit while jet-heeled left-back Youssouf Sabaly was a constant menace to a Poland backline robbed of organiser Kamil Glik through injury.

The bulk of the credit has to go to coach Cisse, however.

The bespectacled former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder spoke eloquently at his press conference about how he hopes to be a pioneer for a new breed of African coaches.

On this evidence he is on the right track.

"Football is a universal sport and the colour of your skin is of very little importance," he said.

"It's good to have a black coach here but it shows that we have quality coaches among us. I represent a new generation that would like to have its place in African and world football.

"We are very good with our tactics and we have the right to be a part of the top international coaches."

Praise should also be given to the Senegalese Football Association, who bucked the trend among African nations of allowing a native to guide the team to a major finals only to dispense with him and appoint a big-name mercenary from Europe.

Having served his apprenticeship with the 2012 Olympic team, Cisse was handed the reins in 2015 and has not looked back, guiding them through the qualifiers unbeaten.

A strong, purposeful midfielder as a player, he is best known for captaining the Senegal team to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2002 on their debut appearance.

It remains, along with Cameroon in 1990 and Ghana in 2010, the best result achieved by an African team at a World Cup.

The coach of that Senegal team was Bruno Metsu, who died aged 59 in 2013.

Asked about the shaggy-haired Frenchman pre-Poland, Cisse said: "Before this match my thoughts go to Bruno, he did so much for Senegalese football.

"He qualified us for the first time, when I was captain, and now I'm coach but we know Bruno is looking down and we can feel that."

If Metsu is indeed looking down, he will be wearing a smile, as will all of Africa.

The Lions of Teranga just let out a mighty roar.