In a crucial do-or-die matchup with high stakes, Senegal did not disappoint. It took the Lions of Teranga some time to break through, but with their resilience and hunger for recognition, they powered through.
Early in the matchup, Senegal tested Ecuador stopper Hernán Galindez multiple times, but their shots all flew away from the post. Ismaila Sarr especially was a huge threat for the Ecuador defense. He drew eight fouls in the entire matchup. It was fitting that he would be the one to put Senegal up after 44 minutes of brutal physicality.
Sarr drew a foul in the box, and sent his penalty towards the bottom right corner, avoiding the outstretched hands of Galindez.
Momentum shifted after the second half when Ecuador realized it wouldn’t advance with the current circumstances. Lead striker Michael Estrada nearly scored with a looping header, but it was Moises Caicedo’s 67th-minute strike that put Ecuador level.
Felix Torres flicked a header off a corner to an unmarked Caicedo, who easily struck the tap-in. As it stood, Ecuador would advance, and Senegal would be left behind.
Senegal finds a way into the round of 16
Kalidou Koulibaly had other plans. After Idrissa Gueye sent a peach of a free-kick into a swirling mass of players, Torres unfortunately miskicked a ball towards an open Koulibaly. The centerback blasted his volley into the back of the net.
Just like that, it was finished. Senegal did not park the bus like other teams tried to. The Lions of Teranga were aware that a flimsy one-goal lead was not enough to sit on. Ecuador had their chances, but Senegal dominated the match. They’ll look to do the same against England in the round of 16.
The good and the bad from Senegal
There was a lot of good things from Senegal’s exciting victory. Senegal showed a offensive tenacity that they did not have against the Netherlands or Qatar. The desperation to make the World Cup drove them to greater hights. The numbers show it.
They had a whopping 2.14 xG on just 14 shots and 39% possession. They proved themselves extremely potent on the counter-attack and on set-pieces, forcing Ecuador into a great defending performance.
Aliou Cisse also made some questionable lineup choices that ended up paying off. He benched Krepin Diatta for Iliman Ndiaye, who ended up playing an important part in revilitalizing Senegal’s attack. He also benched Nampalys Mendy, which was surprising considering the Leicester midfielder’s form for Senegal. But Mendy’s replacement, Pathé Ciss, had an incredble game for Senegal.
There wasn’t a lot of bad for Senegal to go around if you look past Senegal’s poor possession. Senegal made the most of the time they had on the ball, and denied Ecuador chances on goal. Where Senegal suffered was defending inside and near the box. When Ecuador got the chance to control Zone 14, they spurned it. They only had six shots in the box, and only two were on target. Other sides advancing to the round of 16, like England, Portugal, the Netherlands and France, are far more accurate inside the box.
What to expect from the Lions of Teranga
Senegal faces England in the round of 16. England boasts a powerful attack, with Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, and more all leading the Three Lions’ attack. Among those is Marcus Rashford, whose three goals is tied for the best in the tournament so far. Therefore, Senegal needs defend well and relentlessly. It is a certainty that Mendy will have to make some saves, and Koulibaly will be called into action.
To make a huge upset like Saudi Arabia did to Argentina and Japan did to Germany, Senegal needs to be flawless in transition. Senegal has not shown anything special on the break, except in Bamba Dieng’s quick goal against Qatar.
The best aspect of this Senegal side is their proficiency on set-pieces. They always find a way to either draw fouls in dangerous places or to get good headers from free kicks and corners. They have to exploit that if they want to book their first quarter-finals appearance at the World Cup in 20 years.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Xinhua
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