MOSCOW: Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane face off in a mouthwatering World Cup shootout between two of European football’s most lethal forwards on Tuesday as Poland take on Senegal.
Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski finished the season as the Bundesliga’s top scorer for the third time with 29 goals, netting 41 times in all competitions.
Mane scored 10 Champions League goals — including one in the final in Kiev — forming a devastating strike force at Liverpool alongside Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino of Brazil.
“I believe Sadio can be one of the stars of the tournament,” said former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who played in Japan and South Korea in 2002, the only previous time the country has reached the World Cup.
Poland go into the Group H match at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium as favourites and are expected to emerge from a section also featuring Colombia and Japan.
Ranked eighth in the world, it is Poland’s eighth appearance at the World Cup, with coach Adam Nawalka’s side desperate to improve on the third-place finishes in 1974 and 1982. Lewandowski admits he has a point to prove after a disappointing Euro 2016, when he scored only once as Poland exited at the quarterfinals stage.
The 29-year-old is finally reproducing his prolific club form at international level, setting a European qualification record with 16 goals in 10 matches to secure Poland’s place in Russia.
Lewandowski said he was entering the tournament in a different frame of mind from 2016.
“I’m sure that training will be better now and that I’ll be fresh and dynamic at the right time,” he said. “I started preparing for the World Cup much earlier.”
Poland received a boost in the lead-up to the tournament when defender Kamil Glik was cleared to play after an unexpectedly quick recovery from a shoulder injury.
The centre-back is one of the team’s leaders and his job will be to keep Mane quiet while remaining alert to other threats such as Monaco team-mate Keita Balde.
Senegal will hope to emulate the pioneering team of 2002 captained by Aliou Cisse, now the national coach.
Cisse’s men opened that tournament with one of the great World Cup upsets, a 1-0 win over defending champions France, and went on to become one of only three African teams ever to reach the quarterfinals.
Cisse described it as “a great adventure” and wants his charges, ranked 27 in the world, to adopt the same fearless approach in Russia.
“That team already created its bit of history, and now it’s up to this one to create its own,” he told FIFA.com.
“We’ll have to go there without an insecurity complex, play our natural game and stick to our African identity, which defines our football.” — AFP