Ecuador, who had been so impressive in their first two matches, were dealt a harsh reality by Senegal yesterday. The South Americans had cruised past Qatar in the tournament opener, when the hosts suffered a stage fright, and then came mighty close to upset the Netherlands in the next game, with Gonzalo Plata hitting the post.
If that had gone in, then Ecuador would have reached the last 16 – equalling their previous best finish from 2006 – with a game to spare against Senegal.
But as it turned out, the African champions made Ecuador pay for a lifeless first-half display to enter the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup for the first time in 20 years at the Khalifa International Stadium yesterday.
Senegal will take on England in the knockouts and even without their talisman Sadio Mane and Idrissa Gueye, they are going to be a tough opponent for the European heavyweights. A draw would have ensured Ecuador’s passage into knockouts, but an insipid and nervous start to their final Group A game gave Senegal the momentum and the latter never looked back.
Ismaila Sarr’s penalty, which he won after being ploughed into by defender Piero Hincapie, had put Senegal in front at the end of first half, before Ecuador recovered somewhat in the second half as Moises Caicedo found the equaliser in the 67th minute.
However, Ecuador’s celebration was short-lived as two minutes and 30 seconds later Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly slotted home after a corner came off Hincapie, who had a forgettable outing.
Koulibaly’s strike was a hammer blow to Ecuador’s hopes even as Senegal players, backed by the non-stop drumming and dancing of their passionate fans, celebrated wildly. At the final whistle, the Ecuador players dropped to their knees and were inconsolable later. “I am in pain over this defeat. We all are,” Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro said.
“It is a hard blow. It is a big frustration that we are feeling. We knew that details could make all the difference and unfortunately that’s what happened in this match.”
An emotional Koulibaly, meanwhile, dedicated his goal to late Senegal great Papa Bouba Diop and said he would give his man of the match trophy from yesterday’s game to the deceased’s family.
The defender also paid tribute to Senegal’s 2002 World Cup hero by having Diop’s number 19 written on his captain’s armband. Diop scored the winning goal in the stunning 1-0 triumph over France in the opening game of that tournament 20 years ago, helping Senegal reach the quarter-finals. “Today is the anniversary of his death, I will give his family the trophy in his honour,” Koulibaly said.
“We knew the anniversary of his death was something very important, for his family. We wanted to pay homage to him, he made me dream when I was a boy. Now we know we need to rest up, keep a cool head, yes we’ve qualified, and yes we can savour the win, but now we need to concentrate. We need to show why we are the champions of Africa. We need to rest up and get the best from ourselves in the knockout stages,” the defender, who plays for Chelsea in the Premier League, said.
Senegal’s Kalidou Koulibaly (left) celebrates scoring their second goal against Ecuador with teammates at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha yesterday. (Reuters)