A change of tactics by Senegal to bypass Ecuador's sturdy midfield allowed them to capitalize on their rivals' indecisiveness between defending and attacking in a 2-1 win that sent the African nation into the knockout stage of the World Cup.
In their final Group A match on Tuesday and needing a win to progress, Senegal opted to play a lone target man, with their wingers wider than they have so far in the tournament.
With wingers Ismaila Sarr and Iliman Ndiaye at times marauding near the touchline, Senegal avoided being stopped by Moises Caicedo, a lynchpin of the Ecuadorean team. The pair stimulated the Senegalese attack with seven completed crosses and 15 attempts at goal.
Piero Hincapie, unable to handle Sarr's pace from the wing, eventually brought him down with a clumsy tackle in the box, leading to the opening goal from the penalty spot by Sarr himself.
Ecuador, who needed only a draw to advance, sat back in the first half but that penalty just before halftime forced them to change their formation to 4-2-4 from their original 4-3-3 after the break to bolster their attack as elimination loomed.
The sense of urgency that accompanied the formation change pushed them forward and ultimately led to the equaliser by Caicedo, whose commanding presence in midfield has buoyed his side throughout the group stage.
But in a sign of their youthfulness and inexperience on the international stage, Ecuador seemed to relax after levelling and paid a fatal price as they conceded the winning goal three minutes later.
Enner Valencia, who scored three of his country's four goals at the tournament, looked to be suffering the effects of the injury sustained in the opening game that led to him being taken off in both previous matches.
Without his cutting edge, Ecuador showed little, and the final frustration for their country's soccer hero was that it was his error that led to Kalidou Koulibaly's winning goal.
Senegal's Ismaila Sarr celebrates qualifying for the knockout stages. REUTERS