SENEGAL sealed their place in the World Cup’s round of 16 after a 2-1 win against Ecuador, becoming the first African country to do so.
A 70th-minute volley from Captain Kalidou Koulibaly ensured that the reigning African champions progressed to the tournament’s next round.
Ismaila Sarr had put the Lions or Teranga one goal up with a first-half penalty before Moises Caicedo drew Ecuador level.
How the game went?
Senegal controlled proceedings for most of the first half, recording ten shots. They exploited the spaces behind Ecuador’s backline and sustained pressure.
Opta’s match momentum visualisation, which measures the likelihood of a team in possession scoring within the next 10 seconds, depicts this early dominance. The graph below peaks several times in Senegal’s favour.
The pressure finally paid off in the final minute of first-half regulation time.Sarr was fouled in the box after a direct run and won his side a penalty. The Watford forward calmly slotted the ball in with a no-look finish.
Ecuador came out of their blocks in the second half, stifled Senegal, and eventually equalised through Moises Caicedo. At 21 years and 27 days, the Brighton starlet became the youngest player to score for Ecuador in a World Cup match.
At that scoreline, Ecuador would have done enough to qualify. However, Senegal showed their perseverance again and went ahead through a Koulibaly volley from a set piece.
Senegal held on to the lead and became the first African nation to beat a South American side at the tournament since 1990. This is the first time the side has advanced from the group stage since the 2002 World Cup.
The Lions of Teranga also become the third African team to qualify from the group stages on at least two different occasions, after Nigeria (1994, 1998, and 2014) and Ghana (2006 and 2010).
Thanks to an earlier victory against host nation Qatar, Senegal finish second in their group with six points and will face off against England, Group B winners, in the round of 16. They will be without star midfielder Idrissa Gueye; he picked up a yellow card in the second half against Ecuador and is suspended for their next tie.
To date, no African team has gone beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup. However, head coach Aliou Cisse believes his side could still mount a charge this year, even without star forward Sadio Mane.
“Yes, an African country can win the World Cup, and I hope that it will be Senegal. All the teams who are competing at this World Cup are teams who are worthy of being here. It’s not like 30 or 35 years ago where the big fish were completely eating the smaller teams alive.
Cisse remains focused on the next round and admits that it will be a unique challenge for his side: “That will be a new stage for us. We know that we are moving to the knockout stages, which is completely different from what we are used to playing in these types of (group) matches.
“It is now a win or lose situation, there are no second chances – if you win, you go through, if you lose, you go home,” he said.
The knockout match between Senegal and England will take place on Sunday.
Joel currently monitors and writes stories affecting the local political and sports atmosphere. In his spare time, he strives to accentuate data privacy legislation on the continent.
Additionally, Joel regularly curates tactical analyses on football–check his Twitter page (@crunchpick) for more.