Senegal progressed to the World Cup knockout stage at the expense of Ecuador after Kalidou Koulibaly’s strike sealed a 2-1 win at the Khalifa International Stadium on Tuesday.
Aliou Cisse’s side went into the game a point adrift of their opponents, but a deserved victory saw them secure second spot in Group A behind the Netherlands, who beat hosts Qatar in the group’s other game.
Senegal were brightest from the outset and went ahead in the 44th minute when Watford winger Ismaila Sarr coolly slid home from the penalty spot after he had been fouled.
Moises Caicedo pulled Ecuador level midway through the second half, but Chelsea defender Koulibaly popped up in the 70th minute to restore Senegal’s lead and send them into the last 16.
Senegal squandered two glorious chances inside the opening 10 minutes, Idrissa Gueye and Boulaye Dia flashing efforts just wide from inside the penalty area.
Sarr went close with a whipped effort from distance midway through the first half, before Pathe Ciss looped a header onto the roof of the net.
Senegal’s dominance was rewarded a minute before the interval when Sarr slotted home from the spot after he had been brought down in the area by Piero Hincapie.
Ecuador were much improved after the break and they drew level in the 67th minute when Caicedo tapped home at the back post after Felix Torres had flicked a corner on.
Their joy was short-lived, however, as Koulibaly booked Senegal’s last-16 spot just three minutes later with a side-footed volley from six yards after a free-kick had been diverted into his path by an Ecuador defender.
What does it mean? Cisse’s men deservedly march on
Few could argue against the fact that Senegal deserved to progress to the knockout stage ahead of Ecuador, given the quality of the chances they created throughout.
It is the first time the Lions of Teranga have qualified for the round of 16 at a World Cup since 2002 under the guidance of Bruno Metsu. Current head coach Cisse featured in four of their five matches at that tournament.
Captain’s display from Koulibaly
Koulibaly scored the decisive goal but he was just as effective at keeping Ecuador at bay at the other end. The 31-year-old made more clearances (10) and tackles (four) than any other player on the pitch, while no Senegal player made more interceptions (two).
Valencia off the boil
Enner Valencia had been Ecuador’s star man in their opening two games, scoring three times, but he made little impact here. He only mustered two shots – both of which were blocked – as Ecuador’s tournament ended with a whimper.
Senegal face the winner of Group A on Sunday, which is likely to be England but could yet be Iran, USA or Wales. Ecuador, meanwhile, are left to lick their wounds after failing to qualify for the knockout stage for what would have been just the second time in their history.