Senegal won its opening World Cup match against Poland, 2–1, and the frenetic, sloppy affair was decided by a fittingly wonky goal. Goalscorer M’Baye Niang had left the pitch with an injury, but the referees allowed him to return at a remarkably advantageous time to put Senegal up 2–0. Poland scored late to cut into the lead, but it amounted to little more than consolation come the final whistle.
A lot went wrong for Poland to give up that second goal. Polish players surrounded referee Nawaf Shukralla afterwards to plead their case, but the official saw no issue with what had happened. Who, then, was to blame?
Least deserving of blame is Niang, the goalscorer. The Senegal striker had left the field due to injury, and the referee and fourth official told him to re-enter just before the ill-fated back pass was played. The architects of power had consented on his return, and he merely capitalized on being placed in such a fortunate position.
Niang may have rounded Wojciech Szczesney en route to scoring, but the Polish keeper sprinted 40 yards off his line and did everything in his power to prevent the goal. Sure, he could have executed a pad-level tackle to take out Niang, but that would have resulted in a red card, suspension, and the name “Szczesney” becoming synonymous with “cheap shot,” tricky pronunciation be damned.
Grzegorz Krychowiak’s blind, looping backpass started this whole mess. It was either woefully under-hit or terribly over-hit, as it landed in front of Szczesney and behind the last defender. That defender, substitute Jan Bednarek, deserves a big share of the blame, too, as he opted against sprinting for the ball. It’s hard to tell by the replay whether or not he was aware of Niang’s presence, but he seemed less concerned with preventing the goal and more focused on chastising Krychowiak for putting him in the situation to begin with.
That leaves the referees. Were they at fault for allowing Niang to saunter back into proceedings at such a critical moment? Alternate camera angles show that Niang had been waved on before the ball even got to Krychowiak. That he played a back pass was a combination of bad luck and limited awareness.
As always, the blame should be placed firmly on us, the fans. Without us, the game would not have been televised, nor would it have even been played in the first place. Krychowiak, free from the pressures of representing his country in front of millions of people, could focus on his hobbies instead of tricky backpasses. According to this Polish sports website, he is passionate about fashion.
Shame on us for standing in the way of Grzegorz Krychowiak and the runway.