Koulibaly sinks Ecuador to fire Senegal into World Cup knockouts

Senegal's forward #18 Ismaila Sarr (covered) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal from the penalty spot during their Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A match against Ecuador and Senegal at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on November 29, 2022.

Photo credit: Manan Vatsyayana | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Senegal leapfrogged Ecuador into second place and a spot in the last 16 thanks to goals from Ismaila Sarr and Kalidou Koulibaly.


Finally, Africa is guaranteed at least one place in the World Cup knockout stage, a stark contrast to the debacle of Russia 2018.

Senegal did what they had to do on Tuesday, edging Ecuador 2-1 in a gripping Group A affair at the Khalifa International Stadium, named after Qatar’s former Emir Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, to secure the win they needed to advance.

The sold-out stadium, with official attendance at 44,569, was treated to a real ping-pong contest between an African and South American nation meeting for the first in their history and desperate to stay in the tournament.

All of Africa’s five representatives at the last World Cup failed to make it out of the group stage and there was real fear in the continent that this edition would follow the same pattern.

Senegal were the African champions and, on paper, the best placed to advance deep in this tournament. But when their star player, Ballon d’Or runner-up Sadio Mane was withdrawn injured even before the action in Qatar had started, the bright sparkle of a good showing appeared to dim.

The Lions of Teranga lost 2-0 to the Netherlands in their opening match on December 20, bounced back to crush hosts Qatar 3-1 four days later to set up a do-or-die encounter with Ecuador. The South Americans only need to avoid defeat to go through at the expense of the African representatives.

The Teranga Lions showed their intent from the first whistle snapping at every ball and running with energy to rattle the Ecuadorians and their big backing at the Khalifa Stadium.

Senegal should have been up inside the first quarter but for poor finishing.

First, Everton midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye got on the end of a lightning fast move from Senegal but his fierce shot sailed wide off target, and then Boulaye Dia of Italian Serie A outfit US Salernitana found his way into the danger area but fired inches wide.

The goal duly came three minutes to the break Sarr picking himself up after being felled in the box to confidently slot home the penalty.

Senegal looked in control as the second half progressed, but from a corner kick, Ecuador were suddenly back in it, Angelo Preciado tapping in in the 67th minute.

Teranga Lions responded almost immediately, Chelsea defender and team captain Kalidou Koulibaly, named man-of-the-match, slamming home from the other end to get the drum beats from the Senegal corner thumping.

Senegal were through to their first round of 16 since 2002.

“We were not going to let this victory slip. Yes, we have qualified but we need to put a feet on the ground and think of the next round. We need to show that we are the champions of Africa,” said Koulibaly.

The Chelsea man said they believed in themselves even after they had lost to the Netherlands in their opening match.

"We do not listen to the critics. We knew we were capable of getting out of the group and we want to give this gift to the Senegalese people. We want to write our story. We have a lot of talent and can do great things," he said.

“We lost the match in the details. Senegal pressed us up and used high balls. We could not control the pace,” said Ecuador’s Argentine coach Gustavo Alfaro. “We wanted to go through. It is a painful but we look into the future with hope.”

Meanwhile, Tunisia will be the second African country in action in the final round of group matches.

The Carthage Eagles face a near impossible task of defeating reigning champions and leaders France with a big margin in a Group “D” match at Education City Stadium while hoping the other fixture between Australia (three points) and Denmark (one point) ends in any kind of stalemate.

Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri said they must not give France too much respect and urged the nation’s supporters to be proud of them and give them support.

“It will be a difficult match but we have to play with believe. We have to be focused and show patience. Hopefully we will be successful tomorrow."