World Cup Group A: Koulibaly’s quick reply moves Senegal on to Round of 16 in 2-1 win over Ecuador

Kalidou Koulibaly Senegal Ecuador World Cup
Kalidou Koulibaly scores the game-winner for Senegal against Ecuador (Photo: FIFA World Cup)

Kalidou Koulibaly couldn’t have timed his first international goal for Senegal any better. 

Just 2:32 after Ecuador drew level through Moises Caicedo — which would have sent the South American nation to the Round of 16 out of the No. 2 spot in Group A at the World Cup — the Senegalese captain and defender volleyed a right-footed winner off a corner kick in the 70th minute to push the African nation through to the knockout stage in a 2-1 victory.

The only way Senegal could have advanced out of Group A, entering Tuesday in third behind leaders Netherlands and second-place Ecuador, was to win. Meanwhile, Ecuador needed just a draw or better to move on. They will face the Group B winner, which most likely will be England.

The Netherlands defeated Qatar on Tuesday to take the top spot in the group where they will face the second-place team in Group B.

It’s the second time in three all-time World Cup appearances that Senegal has advanced out of the group stage — and the desperation in their game paved the way for such dramatics.

Senegal should have gone up from the get-go as it flew out of the gates with a bevy of chances.

In the third minute — which would have turned the match on its head — Idrissa Geuye got on the end of a low cross all alone in the Ecuadorian box. At the right post, his shot singed inches outside the near post.

Six minutes later, Boulaye Dia received the ball near the penalty spot and dragged his shot wide of the post. Just three minutes after, in the ninth minute, Iliman Ndiaye curled a shot just over the top corner of the goal.  

In the first half alone, Senegal attempted 12 shots compared to just two from Ecuador.

Senegal’s breakthrough finally came in the 42nd minute via the penalty spot when Ecuador’s Piero Hincapie bundled into Ismaila Sarr. Up stepped Sarr, who from 12 yards out casually froze keeper Hernan Galindez as he rolled a skipping attempt into the bottom-right corner of the goal — a well-deserved opener from the Lions of Teranga.

A goal right at the stroke of halftime is normally the most significant in terms of dictating the momentum of the match. But Senegal was content on sitting back a bit more in an attempt to protect its lead rather than continue an aggressive style that made Ecuador a non-factor. 

It didn’t work all that well.

Ecuador drew level in the 67th minute off a corner when a first touch glancing off numerous heads came right to a wide-open Caicedo, who tapped it into an open goal to put La Tri back into the Round of 16. 

They stayed there for all of two minutes. 

A free kick from the right meandered into the center of the box and deflected right to captain Koulibaly at the right post. The Chelsea defender volleyed it with his right foot into the top of the goal to put Senegal right back in front. 

Senegal will be hoping that this run in Qatar can mirror their surprising run to the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan, which helped put the African nation on the world soccer map. 

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