Captain Koulibaly to the rescue as Senegal beat Ecuador to progress

Chelsea defender wore armband in memory of Papa Bouba Diop and finished with aplomb

Senegal are in line to face England in the last 16 of the World Cup after beating Ecuador 2-1 in the final round of Group A.

Ecuador, who had conceded only once in their last eight matches, knew another clean sheet would put them through. But the fact they had only scored five goals of their own in those eight games meant Senegal knew that if they could get in front, their opponents would struggle to reply.

So Senegal attacked from the outset. Left-winger Ismaila Sarr was the biggest threat and his run created a great early chance which was missed by midfielder Idrissa Gueye. Soon after centre-forward Boulaye Dia missed another good chance.

As Senegal repeatedly got in behind, you wondered how Ecuador had ever achieved that impressive defensive record. It looked like they were unused to containing teams with a fast, direct approach.


Their own attack was non-existent. On paper they were 4-3-3, but in practice they were so narrow that their team often seemed to be playing in a T-shape, with the front six resembling a socially-distanced queue. Hard to see this one being copied by many teams. Senegal’s defenders can seldom have had an easier 45 minutes.

A minute before half-time Sarr broke again down the left and charged into the box, only for Hincapie to come rushing across his path and flatten him. It was an extraordinary foul and Clement Turpin needed no confirmation from VAR before pointing to the spot. Sarr got up to roll the penalty into the corner.

Ecuador made two substitutions at half time and began to push forward as Senegal, the second round now in sight, backed into a defensive crouch.

In the 66th minute things started to go wrong for Senegal. First Gueye picked up a needless booking which meant he would be suspended for the potential last-16 game. A minute later it looked like maybe there wouldn’t be a last-16 game to miss.

An Ecuador corner was flicked on towards Moises Caicedo, standing alone at the far post and onside thanks to Sabaly, who was guarding the near post. Caicedo tapped into the empty net and the yellow shirts celebrated the miracle by kneeling in a circle and pointing at the sky.

Ecuador’s joy did not last. In the next move Senegal won a free kick in midfield, sent their big men forward and swung it into the box. Ecuador’s goalscoring talisman Enner Valencia, of all people, bundled an attempted clearance to the unmarked Senegal captain, Khalidou Koulibaly.

Koulibaly was wearing an armband with the number 19 in memory of Papa Bouba Diop, who scored Senegal’s first-ever World Cup goal against France in 2002; this match was taking place on the second anniversary of his death aged 42. Now Koulibaly produced a finish Diop would have been proud of, sidefooting a volley high into the net.

It was too much for Ecuador to climb the mountain all over again. Senegal kept up the pressure and closed out the game.

Ken Early

Ken Early

Ken Early is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in soccer