Senegal is first African team to qualify for R16 after 2-1 win over Ecuador

Sarr carries on Mane’s torch as he led his nation to the round of 16 victory qualification over Ecuador.

And now we have entered sudden death, the final round of group games. Ecuador, with Enner Valencia one of the stars so far, needed a draw to make it to the last 16. Senegal, who found a cutting edge in beating Qatar on Friday, needed a win to go through.

Neither side could rely on Qatar to do them any favours in the concurrent Group A games; this final group match was always likely to be the key one for both teams, with Ecuador’s draw with the Dutch lessening their jeopardy.

Ecuador wanted to reach the last 16 for the second time; they reached there in 2006 and lost to England. Senegal reached the quarter-finals in 2002, with Aliou Cissé at the heart of it all as captain. To follow on from that great team, and this year’s model – sans Sadio Mané – and their winning of the Africa Cup of Nations, only a would have done.

And what a dramatic win they achieved. Ecuador were playing a very high line and Galindez, their goalie, had come out on safari to clear his lines. They looked rather dodgy at the back with full-backs pushed up, giving a golden chance to Senegal. The ball found itself at the feet of Idrissa Gueye, but his shot went wide. The goal was gaping. Ecuador had gone to sleep.

That said, Sarr cut again this time from the left, and on his right foot bent the ball wide of the post.

Senegal were not quite finding the space they did in the early stages, while Ecuador looked to have calmed themselves down. The barrage of drums was probably quite a lot to deal with, but deal with it they did.

Just before half time, Sarr sped through, with Hincapie plowing into him. The tell-tale wag of the finger showed he knew he was guilty for giving away the first penalty; an opportunity that Sarr calmly converted.

A brief glimmer for Ecuador

Ecuador felt better after the break. Estupinan pushed higher up and lifted a great cross from the left side of the penalty area. Estrada managed to jump on it, but couldn’t direct it well enough to target. 

But the Ecuadorians wouldn’t wait long, as Caicedo would shortly equalise from a set piece. The ball was pinged in and Caicedo received a flick on, with the man on the line playing him onside. It felt like Eduoard Mendy’s first job of the day was to collect the ball from the back of the net. Sabaly was the guilty party, for not running from the line.

The Ecuadorians wouldn’t celebrate for long, with Koulibaly giving the lead back to Senegal only minutes after. A free kick from the right came off Hincapie, and on to the captain who jabs home. The atmosphere felt different – Senegal were going to win. 

More chances came from Estupinan, Plata and Preciado but the Senegalese defended like their life depended on it – and it probably did. 

With this win, Senegal qualifies in second place from Group A, and will face the winners of Group C – a group where Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland can all finish on top.

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