Played out under the intense heat inside the Cosmos Stadium in Samara, Senegal and Colombia met for the Group H decider in a real “winner takes all” match. Even though a draw could have been enough for both sides to progress (depending on the Japan vs Poland result), it was clear no team had prepared for that eventuality – the opening period was both cavalier and frantic. José Pékerman’s Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers) brushed off a disappointing opening performance to comprehensively dispatch Poland last time out – the attacking flair of Radamel Falcao, Juan Fernando Quintero, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodríguez exciting the crowds and neutrals alike. However, it was Aliou Cissé’s Les Lions de la Téranga (The Lions of Teranga) that started the brighter. After a number of early exchanges it took only 10 minutes for the exciting Monaco winger Keita Baldé to slip in his captain Sadio Mané in behind the Colombia defence. A perfectly-timed tackle from Spurs defender Davinson Sánchez on Mané was initially given as a penalty but the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) overturned the decision quite rightly. Down the other end, a wonderful bending free-kick from the impressive, cultured River Plate midfielder Juan Fernando Quintero was kept out smartly by Senegal stopper Khadim N’Diaye. Senegal pushed forward with vigour, however, and both Mané and Torino forward M’Baye Niang had shots well saved by David Ospina. Colombia had to suffer the loss of influential vice-captain James Rodríguez , a key cog in Colombia’s game-plan, and, in truth, they rarely threatened the Senegalese goal. A disappoiting day at the races so far for both sides.
A scrappy start to the second period, defined by some very poor passing, wasn’t what the neutral was after. The crowd came alive, however, at the news Poland had gone ahead against the Japanese in the other game in the group, effectively putting both sides through to the knockout stages. Colombia started to dictate the play and go in search of a goal as the impressive Mateus Uribe continued to cause problems for Kalidou Koulibaly and his backline. The goal that won the game came inside the last 20 minutes: Senegal switched off momentarily for a set piece, allowing Barcelona defender Yerry Mina to rise brilliantly and direct a powerful header past the despairing Khadim N’Diaye. His second goal of the tournament. As the game played out it became apparent to everyone that this group could be decided by fair play, of all things. So when the final whistle was heard, Senegal were knocked out of the finals due to two late yellow cards in their games. Salif Sané and Idrissa Gueye were booked in the first group game; Youssouf Sabaly, Cheikh N’Doye and M’Baye Niang were shown yellow in the second. Niang was the only player booked in this game. Two of those cards happened in the 90th and 91st minute of games. Heartbreaking for the Africans, the have been wonderful value at this tournament and deserve a place in the final stages. However, it is Japan and Colombia that go through from Group H.
Man of the Match: Davinson Sánchez (COL)
Best: Davinson Sánchez, Yerry Mina, Juan Fernando Quintero, and Jefferson Lerma (COL), Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sané (SEN)