AL RAYYAN, Qatar -- Senegal are through to the World Cup round of 16 for just the second time in their history after beating Ecuador 2-1 at Khalifa International Stadium.
Set up as a winner-takes-all clash in Group A, Senegal went ahead through Ismaila Sarr's penalty, were pegged back by Moises Caicedo but were ahead again inside three minutes thanks to captain Kalidou Koulibaly, sealing their place in the knockout rounds.
The reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions finished second in Group A behind the Netherlands and will play the winners of Group B in the next round -- England, who play Wales in their final group game later Tuesday and are favorites although Iran or the USA could also pip them.
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1. Senegal do just enough as Koulibaly turns the tie
Senegal suffered a heartbreaking exit at Russia 2018, losing out on a place in the round of 16 to Japan because of an inferior disciplinary record, but they have managed to get over the line in Qatar.
Needing to win to book their place in the knockout rounds, the champions of Africa went ahead just before half-time thanks to Watford winger Sarr's penalty after a foul by Piero Hincapie. But having spent much of the first half pushing Ecuador back, Senegal were made to pay for sitting off early in the second half when Brighton midfielder Caicedo equalised with a tap-in at the back post following a corner.
It looked like setting up a frantic last period, only for Senegal to retake the lead just two minutes later from their own set piece through Chelsea defender Koulibaly.
Senegal were most impressive at both the start and end of the game. They began quickly and could have been 2-0 up inside 10 minutes. And when they needed to defend well in the final minutes to ensure progress, they didn't allow Ecuador a clear-cut chance.
2. Ecuador pay for a slow start
Ecuador, under Argentinian coach Gustavo Alfaro, are at their best when they are breaking quickly, but when they twice needed to find a goal against Senegal they struggled to play on the front foot.
A draw would have seen the South Americans through and it was clear in the way they set up that they were content to contain and try to nick a goal on the break. Perhaps they underestimated the speed at which Senegal started the game and, after giving up two clear chances in the opening 10 minutes, there was a sense that it was only a matter of time before they conceded as in the first half they allowed Senegal 10 shots -- more than in their previous two group stage games at this World Cup combined.
Moments to exploit in transition were rare and after Sarr scored the penalty, they were only allowed back into it when Senegal fell asleep at a set piece.
Ecuador were ranked as the second-lowest team in South America before qualifying began -- ahead of only Bolivia -- and while it was an achievement to get here at all, there will be disappointment at failing to get out of a kind group, particularly after positive early results against Qatar and Netherlands.
3. Senegal have nothing to lose in the round of 16
Senegal are at the World Cup without their best player (Sadio Mane) but they have enough quality in the squad to worry anyone in the knockout rounds. Edouard Mendy is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the centre-back pairing of Koulibaly (Chelsea) and Abdou Diallo (RB Leipzig) have plenty of experience at the highest level in the Champions League.
Alioú Cissé's side conceded just twice on their way to winning the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year and let in just five goals in eight games in qualifying for Qatar. Their issue will be scoring goals from opening play without Mane and missing two golden chances in the first 10 minutes here might be cause for worry, but they won't fear anyone in the next round.
One thing to watch out for in the knockouts is that Senegal are good at penalties. They won the AFCON final and qualified for the World Cup at the expense of Egypt with both decided on penalties. They are a team without a regular goal scorer but one that don't usually concede many so it might come down to who is more composed from the spot.
Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)
Ecuador: Hernan Galindez 6, Felix Torres 6, Pervis Estupinan 6, Piero Hincapie 5, Angelo Preciado 6, Moises Caicedo 7, Carlos Gruezo 5, Alan Franco 5, Gonzalo Plata 6, Michael Estrada 6, Enner Valencia 5.
Subs: Jeremy Sarmiento 6, Jose Cifuentes 6, Djorkaeff Reasco 6, Jackson Porozo 6.
Senegal: Edouard Mendy 7, Ismail Jakobs 6, Youssouf Sabaly 6, Kalidou Koulibaly 8, Abdou Diallo 7, Idrissa Gana Gueye 8, Pape Gueye 6, Iliman Ndiaye 6, Pathe Ciss 6, Ismaila Sarr 7, Boulaye Dia 6.
Subs: Bamba Dieng 6, Nampalys Mendy 6, Pape Abou Cisse 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Idrissa Gana Gueye
The Senegal midfielder stopped Ecuador counterattacking and mopped up almost everything in midfield. However, he will miss the next game due to suspension after picking up a yellow card.
WORST: Enner Valencia
Ecuador's star striker was on the fringes all night and tried to get Youssouf Sabaly sent off with a ridiculous dive.
Highlights and notable moments
Senegal went ahead via a first-half penalty, but it took some confidence from Sarr to pull this off.
With the whole world watching, Sarr hit the no-look penalty 👀 pic.twitter.com/ZiqSmhJGPs— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 29, 2022
Caicedo struck an equaliser to ensure Ecuador were the ones going through again...
ECUADOR TIES IT 🇪🇨— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 29, 2022
As it stands Ecuador is heading to the knockout stage pic.twitter.com/vzUTCIwblM
But it took only three minutes before Koulibaly swung the tie back in Senegal's favour.
WOW 😱— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 29, 2022
SENEGAL TAKES THE LEAD RIGHT BACK 🇸🇳 pic.twitter.com/1BwC2mYwkR
After the match: What the players and managers said
Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro: "It is a hard blow. It is a big frustration that we are feeling. Unfortunately we made mistakes in the decisive match. And this leaves us with a bad feeling because we wanted to go through and stay on this road we had been following. The pain that we all feel right now is a huge pain. Unfortunately we were knocked out of a beautiful dream that these guys were building in the last two years. But we need to take into account the good performances we had and take that into the future."
Senegal defender Koulibaly: "This is for the family of Papa Bouba Diop [the goal scorer when they claimed a shock 1-0 win against France in 2002, and who passed away aged 42 two years ago to the day]. We wanted to make him proud and give homage to him. He made me dream as a boy."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Ismaila Sarr scored Senegal's second-ever penalty in the World Cup. The other was scored in 2002 by Khalilou Fadiga against Uruguay.
- It was Sarr's first goal for Senegal since Jan. 30, 2022, in an Africa Cup of Nations match against Equatorial Guinea.
- African teams have converted 18 of 20 penalty kicks they've taken in World Cup history.
- In the first half, Ecuador allowed Senegal 10 shots -- more than their previous two group stage games at this World Cup combined.
- Before Moises Caicedo's effort, the last player to score for Ecuador in a World Cup match not named Enner Valencia was Ivan Kaviedes in the 2006 group stage vs. Costa Rica.
- Kalidou Koulibaly got his first career goal in 66 appearances for Senegal. And at 31 years and 162 days, Koulibaly becomes the oldest player to score for Senegal at a World Cup.
- At 2 minutes and 30 seconds between Caicedo and Koulibaly's goals, it was the fastest time between two goals by opposing teams at this year's World Cup.
- Senegal reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2002. Current coach Alioú Cissé captained the team the last time they did it.
Ecuador: Nothing for a while, they're off home.
Senegal: A round-of-16 clash with the winner of Group B is next on the agenda. That could be against England, Iran, USA or Wales (though that last one is unlikely) depending on results later. The game will take place on Sunday at Al Bayt Stadium at 10 p.m. / 2 p.m. ET.