Ecuador 1-2 Senegal: Kalidou Koulibaly the World Cup hero as Lions of Teranga seal last-16 berth

Celebration: Kalidou Koulibaly scored a dramatic winning goal for Senegal against Ecuador in Doha  (AP)
Celebration: Kalidou Koulibaly scored a dramatic winning goal for Senegal against Ecuador in Doha (AP)

Yellow cards knocked Senegal out of the World Cup in Russia four years ago and for a brief moment in the second half here it looked as if this time it might be men in yellow shirts.

But after Moises Caicedo’s sharp finish had cancelled out Ismaila Sarr’s opener and seemingly set Ecuador’s course for the last 16, Kalidou Koulibaly provided the swiftest of responses, his volley securing second-place in Group A and sending the African champions into the knockout round for only the second time in their history.

The full-time whistle brought, for the first time in Qatar, that familiar tournament scene, swathes of bibbed substitutes tearing on to hail one set of players while the other collapsed to the turf.

An exit this early was harsh on Ecuador, whose performances in blowing away Qatar and going toe-to-toe with the Netherlands had marked them out as a potential surprise package at this tournament, but the South American side could not deliver a third performance of the same intensity.

For Senegal, a last-16 clash with England will await should Gareth Southgate’s men secure top spot in Group B against Wales later tonight.

Ismaila Sarr gave Senegal a half-time lead following Ismaila Sarr’s cool penalty (Getty Images)
Ismaila Sarr gave Senegal a half-time lead following Ismaila Sarr’s cool penalty (Getty Images)

This was a game tinged with poignancy for both sides. For Senegal, the date marked the second anniversary of the tragically early death of midfielder Papa Bouba Diop, whose goal in the shock win over France in 2002 started one of the World Cup’s great underdog stories. For Ecuador, the venue, the Khalifa International Stadium, had been where national hero sprinter Alex Quinonez, shot dead last year, enjoyed his finest moment when winning the country’s first World Championship track medal in 2019.

Koulibaly wore a heartfelt tribute to the late Diop, who died in November 2020 aged 42, on his captain’s armband on Tuesday.

For both nations, the wait for a second World Cup knockout appearance had been lengthy, Senegal not reaching that stage since the famed run in 2002 and Ecuador since a last-16 defeat to David Beckham’s free-kick and England four years later.

Penalties have been Senegal’s bread and butter since the turn of the year, both the Africa Cup of Nations title and World Cup qualification secured with shootout victories over Egypt. Sadio Mane had smashed home the winning effort in both famous triumphs but with the nation’s talisman out injured it was left to Watford’s Sarr to assume the responsibility after he was clattered into by Piero Hincapie just before half-time.

Sarr had missed his last two penalties for the Hornets, including on a bizarre evening against West Brom in August, when the winger missed from 12 yards having already scored from 60. Here though, he stepped up brilliantly, strolling to the spot and placing firmly into the bottom right corner as goalkeeper Hernan Galíndez shifted his weight the other way.

Moises Caicedo’s equaliser looked to have Ecuador back on course for the knockout stages (AP)
Moises Caicedo’s equaliser looked to have Ecuador back on course for the knockout stages (AP)

Ecuador have been at their thrilling best in this tournament when going at teams in full-flight, but starting the game with the point they needed had seemed to inhibit Gustavo Alfaro’s side. The manager made a double change at half-time, sending on Jeremy Sarmiento and Jose Cifuentes for Alan Franco and Carlos Gruezo in a bid to add impetus and suddenly it was Senegal with everything to lose.

On 67 minutes, it slipped, Felix Torres’ header finding an unmarked Caicedo at the back post, the Brighton midfielder played onside by a man standing literally inside the goal as he became the first Ecuadorian other than Enner Valencia to score at a World Cup in more than 16 years.

Had Valencia scored, he would have become the first man responsible for seven consecutive goals for a country at the tournament. It was not, you suspect, a record he particularly minded missing out on, but within minutes there was more genuine cause for despair, the former West Ham striker’s attempt at clearing Idrissa Gueye’s free-kick teeing up Koulibaly for the superb volleyed finish that put Senegal back ahead.

Senegal are through at the World Cup for the first time since their quarter-final run in 2002 (Getty Images)
Senegal are through at the World Cup for the first time since their quarter-final run in 2002 (Getty Images)

Billed as the first knockout game of the tournament, this was now sudden-death stuff. Ecuador needed only a goal and Senegal, realising the fragility of their lead, decided they, too, could probably do with another.

Six added minutes went up on the board, an Ecuadorian corner was swung in and Edouard Mendy clawed behind. On halfway, Galíndez looked tempted to join the penalty box fray but decided something more was needed, dropping to his haunches in prayer.

The call, though, went unanswered as Senegal, commanded by the outstanding Koulibaly, held firm to extend their stay.