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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

In a flash, Senegal went from packing its bags to extending its stay

Kalidou Koulibaly, right, scored Senegal’s game-winning goal in the second half.

By Andrés R. Martínez

Senegal’s captain, Kalidou Koulibaly, hammered home a game-winning shot off a mishandled ball midway through the second half, sending his country to the knockout round of the World Cup for the first time in 20 years with a 2-1 victory over Ecuador on Tuesday.

In the win-or-go-home game, Senegal dominated the first half as Ecuador struggled to match its intensity. Needing only a tie to advance, Ecuador looked lethargic compared with Senegal’s relentless attack. Free kicks, corner kicks, shots on goal — Senegal did it all and created opportunity after opportunity, but failed to score until near the end of the first half.

Ecuador’s Piero Hincapié body-slammed Ismaila Sarr in the penalty area, earning a yellow card. Sarr lined up at the penalty spot and fired a shot low to the left of Hernán Galíndez, who was frozen in his tracks and watched the ball fly by as Senegal took a 1-0 lead at the half.

Even with its star, Enner Valencia, in the lineup after an injury scare in its previous match, Ecuador had trouble finding a rhythm. But that changed in the second half, when two substitutions and a more aggressive approach allowed the South American squad to seize control. Ecuador’s midfielders and strikers pressed and created opportunities, culminating in a goal started off with a free kick in the 67th minute. Moisés Caicedo nailed a header into the back of the goal, and Ecuador’s fans — the majority in the stadium — erupted, drowning out the drums of the Senegalese contingent.

But the celebration was short-lived.

Barely two minutes later, Koulibaly let the ball bounce once after a poor clearance in the box and fired in a right-footed shot past Galíndez, securing Senegal’s place in the second round.

The Lions of Teranga must now wait to see who they face in the next round as the remaining contenders play their final group matches. After finishing second in Group A behind the Netherlands, Senegal is slated to face the winner of Group B, which is poised to be England.

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