The drums rolled, the fans danced, and their team absorbed their energy and expended it on the field. In the end, Senegal managed to rattle Ecuador with its two goals to the latter’s one and book a berth in the World Cup’s round of 16.
Aliou Cisse, the Snoop Dogg lookalike on the Senegal bench, used the speed of Iliman Ndiaye and Ismaila Sarr in the wings to regularly move beyond the highline that Ecuador maintained. Saar was dogged, running always, and the goal came when Piero Hincapie brought the Senegal winger down like a farmer running his sickle through the wheat crop.
Moments were lost as Senegal, missing its regular penalty taker Sadio Mane, had a mid-pitch dispute to settle the choice for the important task. Saar was entrusted and he kept his cool to sweep it beyond Hernan Galindez, who did his best to distract the Watford winger.
Senegal dominated throughout and should have been ahead by the third minute as Idrissa Gueye found a gaping hole in the Ecuadorian defence, but he failed to keep his shot on target. It was Boulaye Dia who dragged the next one wide after Gueye had scurried inside the box.
Ecuador, though, found its equaliser as Moises Caicedo was rather fortunate for a flick from a corner to land on his feet and Youssouf Sabaly on the goal-line playing him onside. Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy could just be another onlooker as Caicedo rolled in the goal.
The Senegalese reaction was instant, and its lead was re-secured two minutes later. A free kick from the right bounced off Hincapie, and skipper Kalidou Koulibaly thumped his team back in the lead with a swat of the right boot.
Koulibaly’s armband was an homage to Papa Boupa Diop, the scorer of Senegal’s winning goal over defending champion France in Korea-Japan, who had passed away in 2020. And the team of 2022 paid him the perfect tribute by moving into the knockouts like the class of 2002.
Meanwhile, Cody Gakpo netted his third goal in three games as the Netherlands comfortably beat hosts Qatar 2-0 at the Al Bayt Stadium to secure top spot in Group A.
The results: Group A: Ecuador 1 (Caicedo 67) lost to Senegal 2 (Ismaila 44-pen, Koulibaly 70); Netherlands 2 (Gakpo 26, De Jong 49) bt Qatar 0.