Anticipation might be at an all-time high for players and fans from Poland and Senegal when these match up Tuesday in Moscow for the final of the first-round group games.
It’s been 12 years since Poland played in a World Cup, back when star Robert Lewandowski was about to turn 18. Senegal were last in the World Cup in 2002 – their only other appearance – when their superstar striker Sadio Mane was just ten. So it’s been a while, and both sides hope the wait was worthwhile.
With 2014 World Cup stunners Colombia and potential sleeper Japan also in the mix, Group H has no odds-on favourite. Every match expects to be tense as the fight for positioning will be fierce. It should be a fun ride, and this contest should follow that form.
The storylines are plenty, so let’s have a look.
1 Is it kick-off yet?
Nothing against the fans from Senegal, they have reason to be proud of their squad and should be excited for this opportunity, but the Polish supporters must be champing at the bit to get their team's portion of the World Cup started.
Led by Lewandowski, Piotr Zieliński, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Co., many believe this is the best Polish side since the teams of 1974 and 1982 finished third at the World Cup. After a berth in the Euro 2016 quarterfinals and an impressive run through qualifying, expectations are naturally high for the supporters of The White and Reds.
And with Moscow a doable trek from Poland, expect to see a favorably pro-Polish contingent at Otkritie Arena (dubbed Spartak Arena for the World Cup), even as their fans have been warned to be safe. Sure, the Poles have young talent on the roster, so it doesn't seem likely they'll go another 12 years between World Cup trips.
But nothing's guaranteed, and those many Polish supporters who will be on hand Tuesday should know that.
2 Cisse's been there, done that
In 2002, Aliou Cisse captained a Senegal team that stunned defending champion France in the group stage en route to a surprise run to the quarterfinals. Cisse is back at the World Cup as Senegal's manager, a position he has held since 2015.
Also along for the ride are former 2002 standout keeper Tony Sylva and defenders Omar Daf and Lamine Diatta, all now on Cisse's staff. That level of experience could come in handy during a World Cup, perhaps more from a mental capacity than anything else, since the environment of the tournament can be intimidating.
Cisse, however, has heard from some naysayers while the Teranga Lions produced just two goals over a four-game 2018 friendly stretch where they endured scoreless draws to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Luxembourg and lost 2-1 to Croatia. Senegal enter this match off a 2-0 victory over South Korea, but there is pressure on Cisse to make sure talents like Liverpool's Sadio Mané, Keita Baldé and Moussa Konaté are put in the right positions to thrive.
3 Is Sarr ready to star?
Looking for someone under the radar who has the potential to make an impact in this contest, and possibly within the group? How about 20-year-old Senegalese striker Ismaïla Sarr? Though he'll likely provide offensive depth to start the tournament, Sarr can be the x-factor for Cisse's side.
Blessed with superior speed, Sarr has three international goals since joining the national team in September 2016, but one came during Senegal's qualification run through Africa. He also scored in the recent loss to Croatia.
However, he posted five goals for a second straight season in Ligue 1, this time for Rennes, so Sarr's ceiling remains high. Whether he gets an opportunity in this contest remains to be seen, but he's worth keeping an eye on.
4 The Glik's been fixed
Shortly after being deemed out for the World Cup because of a shoulder injury suffered while training, Poland centre back Kamil Glik is expected to play in the tournament after this surprise turnaround was reported this month.
While the hope is that Glik will be ready for Poland's final group match against Japan on June 28, perhaps it wouldn't be a stretch to see him get action in either of their first two contests.
The 30-year-old Glik has been the focal point of Poland's backline and with the likes of Mane, James Rodriguez and Shinji Okazaki in your group, they'll need their best available to help slow guys like that down. It will be interesting to see how Poland manager Adam Nawalka handles Glik's situation, which adds another bit of intrigue to a group consumed by parity to start.
5 Waiting their turn
One might wonder if all the waiting around by both sides to play their opener will have any kind of negative effect. The tournament will be almost a week old by the time they kickoff, and the game to follow this one on Tuesday's schedule- Russia vs. Egypt - will start the second round of group play.
It's been mentioned how excited and eager fans of both sides, especially Poland, should be for this match but for the players it might be equally intense and maybe a bit frustrating. They will have been in Russia for a while, just waiting for their time to shine. The first few minutes of this match will be fun to see if that eagerness results in any overzealous play.
We'll just have to wait and see.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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