MOSCOW — Senegal became the first African team to win at this year’s World Cup, defeating Poland 2-1 Tuesday on a first-half own-goal and a controversial second-half strike by Mbaye Niang.
Senegal, back in the tournament for the first time since 2002, went ahead in the 37th minute when Thiago Cionek’s attempted block of Idrissa Gueye’s shot wrong-footed goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who was picked to start over fellow Arsenal castoff Lukasz Fabianski.
Niang, who had returned to the field from treatment, later beat Szczesny to a backpass and had an open net when he doubled the lead in the 60th.
Grzegorz Krychowiak, whose backpass led to Senegal’s second goal, headed in a free kick in the 86th minute to end Poland’s streak of five straight scoreless World Cup openers.
Both teams’ stars, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, rarely threatened in quiet World Cup debuts.
Senegal is tied for the group lead with Japan, which upset Colombia 2-1 earlier. Senegal will play Japan on Sunday, when Poland meets Colombia.
Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia had been outscored 6-1 as African teams started 0-4.
Poland kept up its track record of dismal World Cup starts. It has four losses and three draws since beating Argentina in 1974.
Senegal President Macky Sall was in the stands to watch his nation’s first World Cup match since 2002, when the team reached the quarterfinals before losing to Turkey. Poland returned for the first time since 2006.
Poland fans in red and white were about three-quarters of the crowd, and they chanted and clapped throughout.
Lewandowski topped the Bundesliga in scoring in three of the last five seasons and while he had 16 of Poland’s 28 goals in qualifying, he managed only one goal at the 2012 European Championship and one at Euro 2016.
Senegal took the lead when Niang went around Lukasz Piszczek on the flank following a restart and centred to Mane. The Senegal midfielder passed to Gueye, whose right-footed shot from the arc headed toward Szczesny’s far post. Cionek, near the penalty spot, lifted his right leg and deflected the ball past Szczesny’s other side for the fourth own-goal of the tournament.
Poland shifted to a three-man backline at the start of the second half, and Senegal’s Salif Sane got a yellow in the 49th for tripping Lewandowski from behind as this forward was running onto a through pass. As Poland pushed for an equalizer, Khadim Ndiaye dived to his left to parry Lewandowski’s free kick, and Piszczek put an open shot into the side net in the 56th.
Then came an unusual goal. Niang had been off the field for treatment after Jan Bednarek stomped on a foot. Referee Nawaf Shukralla of Bahrain, a veteran of two World Cup matches in 2014, waved Niang to come back on the field just as Krychowiak lofted a backpass from the centre circle to Szczesny. Niang let it bounce twice, knocked the ball past the goalkeeper then sprinted to catch up as the ball bounced three more times, and he tapped it into the open net from about 8 yards.
Krychowiak scored from a free kick by Kamil Grosicki from about 35 yards, but Ndiaye made the lead hold up when grabbed a corner kick in stoppage time.
Few would have predicted the results in the group, which put both favourites at the bottom. Poland is ranked eighth, and six of the top eight teams in the FIFA rankings have failed to win their openers — Belgium and France are the exceptions.
The match was played at red-and-white Otkritie Arena, the 4-year-old home of Spartak Moscow, where Alexander Rukavishnikov’s 80-foot (25-meter) bronze statue of Spartacus rises high. The Russian club is named after the Thracian gladiator who led a slave rebellion against the Romans.
Poland: Midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski started limping midway through the first half and his right calf was treated just before the restart that led to the goal. He was replaced by Bednarek at the start of the second half.