Yerry Mina’s second-half header sent Colombia into a potential last-16 tie with England at the World Cup at the expense of Senegal, who lost out to Japan having received more yellow cards.
Senegal spent the final 20 minutes pushing for an equalizer which would have sent the African side through – Aliou Cisse’s side were level with Japan in terms of points and goal difference, but crucially not yellow cards.
Colombia had to win to be sure of their progress but with Poland beating Japan 1-0 in Volgograd, African representation at the World Cup was ended as Senegal failed to secure the point they needed.
The South Americans will face the runners-up from Group G, which will be either England or Belgium, in Moscow on Tuesday, while Japan awaits the winners in Rostov-on-Don on Monday.
Senegal thought they had been awarded a 16th-minute penalty after a tackle by Davinson Sanchez on Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, but the decision was correctly overturned by Champions League final referee Milorad Mazic, with VAR showing the Tottenham defender clearly touched the ball with what was a risky challenge.
Former England midfielder Danny Murphy, speaking on BBC One, called the tackle “the best of the tournament”.
Colombia’s chances were dealt a blow just after the half-hour mark as James Rodriguez was forced off due to injury – having missed the first game with a calf problem – four years to the day since his stunning volley against Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup.
But with Barcelona defender Mina’s second consecutive goal from Juan Quintero’s corner sending Colombia through as group winners, Senegal missed out having received two yellow cards more than Japan.
Senegal were the better side in the first half against a lackluster Colombia despite having just 43% possession, but Cisse’s side failed to find a breakthrough from their two shots on target.
They were forced onto the back foot more after the break as Colombia improved – and should have done better when defending the corner from which Mina scored from.
Senegal improved after conceding, perhaps also knowing Poland had taken the lead against Japan and sensing the onus was back on them to score.
But despite plenty of flair and effort, Senegal were unable to find a way past Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina, and a pair of yellow cards in the 90th and 91st minute of their 2-2 draw with Japan for Cheikh N’Doye and Youssouf Sabaly retrospectively proved crucial.
Niang was also booked against Colombia, taking their total to six yellow cards in three games compared to Japan’s four, as Senegal became the first team to be eliminated via the fair play rule which was only introduced for this tournament.
The Poland-Japan match finished in farcical fashion, with both sides happy to play the ball around at the back for much of the final quarter.
That prompted former England captain Terry Butcher to say on BBC Radio 5 live it “does leave a bitter taste” and that a “magnificent World Cup has been tainted”.
BBC football expert Mark Lawrenson, speaking on BBC Two, called the situation a “farce”, while also questioning if “there has to be a better way of settling a table in the World Cup”.
It means for the first time since the introduction of the round of 16 in 1986, there will be no African team present in the knockout stage of the World Cup.