After all that, after all the qualification and buildup, after six hard-fought matches and injuries and hand-wringing, it all came down to yellow cards.
Just like Japan, Senegal won once, tied once, and lost once — falling by 1-0 to Colombia on Thursday after giving up a goal to Yerry Mina — but it will be the Japanese advancing to the knockout phase by virtue of having only three yellow cards, while Senegal had five.
Colombia, which was in the most precarious position of the three teams (Poland had already been eliminated), emerged from the chaos, and the disappointment of losing James Rodríguez early in the first half, at the top of the Group. It will face the runner-up from Group G — either England or Belgium, to be decided later today.
But for Senegal, it is a painful end to what had been a promising run. They defeated Poland and tied Japan, and appeared to be content with fending off Colombia’s attack and aiming for a draw on Thursday in Samara. And for the most part, that approach worked: Senegal was able to disrupt Colombia’s offense with hard challenges and a tight defensive shape.
But it was Mina’s pure physicality that let Colombia break through. The 6-foot-5 defender rose above the Senegalese defense on a 74th-minute corner kick and headed the ball home from close range.
The goal proved devastating not just for Senegal but for Africa in general, which was left without any team in the knockout phase: Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria and Morocco have all been eliminated as well.
Colombia, which handed Senegal its first-ever loss in a World Cup group stage (it was Senegal’s second tournament), can now focus on the business of improving upon its thrilling run to the quarterfinals in 2014, in which Rodriguez played a starring role. Four years later, though, his health is suddenly a big question mark surrounding a team that is relieved to have advanced but showed little offensive threat with him off the field.
[Up Next: Follow our live coverage of England vs. Belgium]
Here’s how Colombia beat Senegal:
Full Time: Colombia 1, Senegal 0
That’s it! Colombia beats Senegal, and advance from Group H. Japan also advances because of the sixth tiebreaker: “fair play,” or number of red and yellow cards. Colombia walks away the group winner.
94’: Senegal Scrambling
Colombia is desperately trying to blast the ball back into the Senegal half with a minute to go, and Senegal is struggling to put together a decent threat.
91’: Senegal Has Four Minutes
Four minutes of added time, and four minutes left in Senegal’s World Cup, unless it can score.
89’: Falcao Off
Colombia uses its final substitution, bringing on Miguel Borja in place of Falcao.
88’: Time Running Out for Senegal
Colombia looks like it wants another goal – they got a quick counter and flew straight down the middle of the field with little appetite to kill time. This will be a frantic final few minutes.
86’: Senegal Makes a Change
Senegal brings on Diafra Sakho in for M’Baye Niang, hoping for a late spark.
81’: The Scenario for Senegal
Senegal, for the record, now needs one of two things: Another goal by Poland, or a goal of their own. They have just over 10 minutes for either to happen.
79’: Senegal Keeps Attacking
Senegal with ANOTHER chance! A beautifully placed cross from the left side finds Ismaïla Sarr on the right, unmarked, but he mis-hits the volley and it goes into the upper deck.
78’: Another Save for Ospina
And Ospina makes another great save on the corner kick! The ball actually deflected off Mina, the Colombian goal scorer, and was going in before Ospina got down quickly to make the stop on the goal line. Ospina paid for that save, taking a foot to the face in the process.
77’: Big Save for Colombia
Save, Colombia! M’Baye Niang turns and shoots from about seven yards out, but David Ospina gets two hands in front of the hard shot and deflects it out for a corner.
74’: GOAL Colombia!
Yerry Mina nods it in off a corner kick!
Mina, the young Barcelona centerback, does the same thing he did against Poland in Colombia’s second game, using his big frame to rise above the defense and thunder home a header from close range.
72’: Slowing it Down
Youssouf Sabaly takes a knock and is slowly being led off the field. Key word here is slowly, as both teams may be looking to drag this one out considering the score in the Japan-Poland match.
68’: Close Call for N’Diaye
Khadim N’Diaye, the Senegal goalkeeper, is living on the edge with a bold charge out and a challenge on Luis Muriel. He cleans out Muriel’s legs with a slide tackle at the corner of the penalty area, but gets his feet on the ball to avoid a foul.
66’: Falcao Header Goes Over
Falcao with another great look at a header off a corner kick! He bursts toward the near post and gets away from his defender, but his header appears to go off his own shoulder and flies harmlessly high of the goal.
63’: Mane’s Free Kick Sails
Sadio Mane bursts toward goal from midfield and is brought down by Sanchez again, about 25 yards out from goal. It’s a dangerous spot for a Senegal free kick, but Mane loses his footing in the runup to the free kick and pops it straight up over the goal.
61’: Senegal’s Defense Firm
Senegal’s defense has been stout. Another movement stalls when a Falcao pass in intercepted by the goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye.
Poland Helps Colombia
Pssst: Poland has scored against Japan, who is now in danger of being eliminated. Colombia and Senegal would go through if this holds.
56’: Attack, Counterattack
Colombia has its most dangerous look of the second half so far, with Mojica whipping in a cross to the far post, but no one can get on the end of it. Senegal gets a counter immediately, but a cross from the end line also slips through without connecting.
54’: Colombia Looks for Cuadrado
Colombia doesn’t seem to have many ideas on offense aside from hoofing it to Juan Cuadrado on the right side. No matter where they are, they seem to look for him and hope he can orchestrate something from near the sideline. So far that hasn’t happened.
51’: Yellow for Niang
Senegal’s M’Baye Niang gets a yellow card for a dangerous kick on a high 50-50 ball. He’ll miss the next match if Senegal goes through.
49’: This Looks Familiar
More of the same so far in the second half. Disjointed offense, mostly from Colombia, and no-nonsense clear-it-now defending, mostly from Senegal.
47’: Trying, Trying
An early turnover for Colombia. Santiago Arias was trying to make something happen, but his pass was too far afield.
46’: Colombia Needs a Goal
Second half is underway, with Colombia needing a goal to advance, as things currently stand.
Group H Struggling to Find a Goal
It seems all of Group H has forgotten how to score today. Japan and Poland are tied at 0-0, as well. If those results hold, Japan and Senegal advance. If Poland manages to get a lead in the second half, Senegal and Colombia might as well dig in — a draw for them and a Poland win would send both Senegal and Colombia through.
Halftime: Colombia 0, Senegal 0
Few would be tempted to call that first half “pretty,” but Senegal, at least, will be pleased with their standing. They’ve given up few opportunities to Colombia, and just one real shot. And the sight of James Rodriguez — so instrumental in Colombia’s offense against Poland — limping off was as welcome for Senegal as it was devastating for Colombia. Falcao and Juan Cuadrado will have to find ways to link up in the second half to spark the Cafeteros’ attack.
45’: Colombia Comes Up Short
One final Colombian push before halftime comes up empty, and the teams will go into the locker room scoreless after 45 minutes.
45’: Yellow for Johan Mohica
A Senegalese counterattack led by Mane is broken up by a body check from Johan Mohica, who earns a yellow card for his effective foul. The free kick floats dangerously toward the back post but bounces out untouched.
43’: Colombia Stalls
Falcao receives decent service outside the Senegal area, but he loses control trying to make something happen in the middle of three defenders and is called for a foul. Nothing much from Colombia’s offense as of late.
41’: Another Colombian Hurt
Johan Mojica is down, apparently injured near Colombia’s end line. Juan Quintero sprinted over to the sideline to have a conversation with Colombia Manager Jose Pekerman, apparently about Mojica’s status. Mojica stays in for now, though, after a moment of treatment.
37’: Mane Attacking
Sadio Mane makes a dangerous run cutting through the middle, but Sanchez is determined not to let him through without a fight, and brings him down about 30 yards out and gives up a free kick. But Sane shanks the kick, and his attempt goes nowhere near the goal.
35’: N’Diaye Handles Colombia’s Free Kick
Colombia keeps it together after losing Rodriguez, who was named the man of the match against Poland, and draws a free kick. But it’s too far and Khadim N’Diaye again picks it out of the air.
31’: James Rodriguez Goes Off
This is not good news for Colombia. James Rodriguez is coming off early, being replaced by Luis Muriel. Rodriguez was limited coming into the World Cup because of a calf strain, playing just 30 minutes in their opener, but had recovered and played a longer stretch against Poland. But clearly he’s struggling again.
30’: Senegal Has the Edge
Senegal has responded well after Colombia’s last threat. They’ve mounted a good bit of pressure in the attacking third, mostly through Mane, but they’ve also been able to win the ball back after turnovers and keep possession for long stretches.
27’: There’s Mane!
Sadio Mane bursts through the Colombia defense and gets into the area. His shot is blocked, and Keita Balde tries to put in a rebound, but Ospina makes an easy save.
25’: Falcao Just Misses
Juan Quintero gets clipped with a late tackle on the right side (and probably embellishes a bit), winning a free kick for Colombia in a dangerous spot. And Falcao has a great look at a header on the free kick, but send it just barely over the bar!
23’: Senegal Presses
The game is opening up as Senegal gets a little more assertive on offense. They’re looking to break Sane through up the middle, but Colombia is doing just enough to close him down when he’s on the ball.
21’: Senegal’s Free Kick Blocked
Senegal wins another free kick on the left side, about 30 yards out, but again it goes straight to Ospina.
17’: No Penalty After Review
The referee reviews it and decides to rescind the call! Colombia escapes a tough spot.
Davinson Sanchez lunged at Mane and appeared to take out his front leg, but the referee must have decided that he got enough of the ball to justify the tackle. That one will certainly be hotly debated if it ends up being decisive today.
Sadio Mane is brought down in the box! Senegal will have a penalty kick.
15’: Sabaly Gets Physical
Youssouf Sabaly has been physical so far. Referee Milorad Mazic lets him know it with a whistle after a rough tackle.
13’: Colombia’s Offense Awakens
Colombia’s started to put it together on offense, playing more fluid passes and stretching the field. Falcao gets crushed by two defenders trying to bring down a lofted pass about 5 yards outside the top of the area and Colombia gets a dangerous free kick. Juan Quintero curls it around the wall toward the far post, but Khadim N’Diaye makes a good save.
9’: Free Kick for Senegal
Senegal wins a free kick on the left side about 40 yards out. But Keita Baldé puts too much on it and Colombia’s goalkeeper David Ospina makes an easy catch.
8’: Slow Start for Both Sides
Nerves may be playing a role here. Colombia has seemed particularly sloppy, unable to connect on many passes and often going back to the goalkeeper, David Ospina, to avoid a costly turnover in their own half.
4’: Senegal Playing Long Ball
Senegal has tried to launch a couple early attacks with long balls down the wings, but they’ve been way off target with their delivery.
We’re underway! Colombia’s wearing yellow and Senegal is in green. If the national anthems were any indication, Colombia has an overwhelming advantage in the stands today.
A Friendly Reminder
Don’t @ them:
Colombia Gets Some Help
Colombia gets some relief on defense for this game, as Carlos Sanchez, their veteran defensive midfielder, returns after receiving a red card in the third minute of the opening match against Japan. Though the Colombians survived without him against a toothless Poland attack in their second game, Sanchez will be crucial in slowing Senegal.
On the other side, the best matchup to watch will be the tandem of Kalidou Koulibaly and Youssouf Sabaly trying to slow down Colombia’s James Rodrigues and Radamel Falcao.
Colombia’s Starting Lineup
Goalkeeper: 1 David Ospina (Arsenal)
Defenders: 23 Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham), 4 Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven), 17 Johan Mojica (Girona), 13 Yerry Mina (Barcelona)
Midfielders: 6 Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol), 10 James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), 15 Mateus Uribe (America), 20 Juan Quintero (River Plate), 11 Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)
Forward: 9 Radamel Falcao (Monaco)
Look for Senegal to Attack
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse is mixing it up after the team’s 2-2 draw with Japan. He’s bringing back Cheikhou Kouyate to the midfield to replace Alfred N’Diaye. Also, Keita Balde and Lamine Gassama are inserted in the starting lineup.
This is an attack-heavy lineup for Senegal, led by Sadio Mane. The Liverpool forward will be joined up front by M’Baye Niang of A.C. Milan.
Senegal’s Starting Lineup
Goalkeeper: 16 Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya AC)
Defenders: 3 Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), 12 Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), 21 Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor).
Midfielders: 5 Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton), 8 Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), 6 Salif Sane (Hannover 96)
Forwards: 10 Sadio Mane (Liverpool), 20 Keita Balde Diao (Monaco), 18 Ismaila Sarr (Rennes), 19 M’Baye Niang (AC Milan)
Some Pregame Reading
• Senegal Coach Aliou Cissé was the captain of the unforgettable national team that reached the quarterfinals in 2002, and now he is one of two African coaches at this World Cup. He is also the lowest-paid of the World Cup coaches.
• Take a 27-hour train ride across Russia with the most adventurous fans at the World Cup — and our reporter, who went with them.
• Spot the ball! (This isn’t technically reading, but it’s a good way to kill time before the game.)