Koulibaly sinks Ecuador and puts Senegal in knockout stages

Tuesday, November 29th, 2022 21:37 | By
Kalidou Koulibaly celebrates his winner. PHOTO/Courtesy

A distraught Hernan Galíndez had to be helped off his knees. A training bib draped over the head of Moisés Caicedo could not hide his sobbing. All around the Ecuador goalkeeper and goalscorer there were prone players in yellow crying into the grass. The knockout stages have arrived early and swept Ecuador out of the World Cup. It is Senegal who advance to a probable last-16 date with England.

Kalidou Koulibaly timed his first international goal to perfection to send the Africa Cup of Nations’ champions through as runners-up in Group A behind The Netherlands. He struck just 150 seconds after Caicedo had levelled for Ecuador and kept them in sight of the last 16. England most likely await at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.

performances was nowhere to be seen under the pressure of protecting what they had. Senegal, knowing they needed to win, were uninhibited by contrast.

Amid a backdrop of incessant drumming from Senegal supporters, who put almost as much effort into each performance as the players do, Aliou Cissé’s side controlled the first half. They should have been ahead inside three minutes when Idrissa Gana Gueye found himself unmarked in front of goal after both Boulaye Dia and Iliman Ndiaye allowed Ismaïla Sarr’s left wing cross to roll into the midfielder’s path as he raced into the area. The Everton player’s first time shot sailed centimetres wide when he had to hit the target.

Despite the importance of a clean sheet to Ecuador there was a lack of concentration in their defence throughout, and it would cost them dearly on the cusp of half-time. Dia dragged a shot wide of the far post when Sheffield United’s lively Ndiaye and Youssouf Sabaly combined to release the striker behind Ecuador’s sleeping back-line. Sarr was equally potent on the left, giving Angelo Preciado a torrid time, and curled over after barging the right back aside as they battled for Pape Gueye’s header.

Senegal’s strength and Ecuador’s weakness were perfectly encapsulated by the breakthrough. Both Preciado and central defender Felix Torres misjudged the flight of a long ball out of the Senegal defence. Sarr read it perfectly. The Watford winger muscled in ahead of Torres on the left and took one touch inside the area before being clattered by a clumsy challenge from centre-half Piero Hincapié. French referee Clément Turpin immediately pointed to the spot and Sarr, who had missed his two previous penalties at club level, stroked a confident penalty inside the bottom left corner with Ecuador goalkeeper Galíndez rooted to his line.

Ecuador required a change of mind-set and approach for the second half and their Argentinian coach responded with a double substitution at the interval. The introduction of Jose Cifuentes and Brighton’s Jeremy Sarmiento sparked an immediate improvement and, for the first time in the game, Senegal were on the back foot for a sustained spell. Édouard Mendy had still had nothing to do before picking the ball out of his net, however.

The equaliser was maddening for Cissé as his team collectively switched off at a corner. Gonzalo Plata’s delivery was met by the bleached blond head of Torres and fell to Caicedo, left completely unmarked at the back post and kept onside by Sabaly standing on the goal-line at the opposite post. The Brighton midfielder tucked away a simple finish and the Senegal drums fell silent. But they were beating again within two minutes.

Caicedo’s moment of triumph quickly turned to despair when Gana Gueye swung a free-kick into a crowded Ecuador penalty area. The ball struck Ecuador’s goalscorer on the thigh and looped up for Koulibaly to restore Senegal’s precious lead with a close range volley beyond Galíndez. The Chelsea defender’s first goal at international level could not have arrived at a more critical time for his country. A true captain’s contribution.

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