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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Colombia display powers of recovery to top Group H as unlucky Senegal exit World Cup

A 1-0 win for the South Americans, courtesy of Yerry Mina's second half header, sends home their African opponents on Fair Play

Colombia's players celebrate after team mate Yerry Mina scored the decisive goal in the win over Senegal. Efrem Lukatsky / AP Photo
Colombia's players celebrate after team mate Yerry Mina scored the decisive goal in the win over Senegal. Efrem Lukatsky / AP Photo

It counts as one of the more remarkable stories of this World Cup. Colombia were a man down after three minutes of their competition. They were a goal behind after six. To go on and win Group H, therefore, is an illustration of their powers of recovery.

But it also counts as one of the crueller tales in the tournament’s history. Senegal were eliminated because they collected two more cautions than Japan. They won as many games, scored as many goals, procured as many points. The footballing table was level. Senegal, while scarcely badly behaved, went out courtesy of the Fair Play table. They are the first team ever to be knocked out in such a way.

There is a case that they were the pool’s best side, just as they were arguably the better team on Thursday. Yet they slipped from first to third when Yerry Mina met Juan Fernando Quintero’s corner with the most emphatic of headers to set historical distinctions.

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More from 2018 World Cup:

John McAuley's World Cup diary: Fans in Russia have been amazing - and so has Google Translate

Germany and Low pay high price for too many pre-World Cup warnings going unheeded

WATCH: Lionel Messi sits out training as Argentina prepare for World Cup clash with France

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For the first time, Colombia have reached the last 16 in successive World Cups. For the first since 1982, there are no African representatives in the knockout stages. Senegal did not buckle under the pressure of carrying a continent’s hopes but lost anyway.

Like Nigeria, they can count themselves unfortunate. They only needed a draw to progress and came agonisingly close. They can regret one piece of slack marking at a set-piece and two equalisers they conceded to Japan in Yekaterinburg.

They can complain about the way Japan and Poland abandoned all attempts to score in the closing stages of their game.

They can also rue the introduction of VAR after initially being awarded a penalty. Keita Balde found Sadio Mane, who was bursting into the Colombia box. Davinson Sanchez slid in and referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot. When he reviewed the footage, he reversed his decision. Far from being a foul, it was a brilliant last-ditch challenge.

It was a triumph of technology and averted an injustice. Over the balance of play, however, the scoreline nevertheless felt unfair. Senegal were organised in defence and the more enterprising going forward. Mane threatened, with Davinson Sanchez often required to cover because he kept eluding Mina.

Yet Senegal had too few chances until they trailed. Then they arrived in a flurry. David Ospina made a fine stop from Ismaila Sarr’s shot. The winger volleyed way over. Ospina had to save to spare Mina an own goal.

Mina was more impressive at the other end. He has struck in successive matches, just as Quintero has recorded either a goal or an assist in all three group games. He could have scored another goal, with Khadim N'Diaye parrying his free kick, and he was the finest of Colombia’s front four.

He needed to be. Thursday marked the fourth anniversary of James Rodriguez’s superlative volley against Uruguay. It was not a happy one for the 2014 Golden Boot winner: there was no repeat, an upset Rodriguez being substituted after half an hour.

His anonymity could be forgiven; he was clearly hampered by injury. He was replaced by Luis Muriel, who grew in influence in the second half. He needed to, given Colombia did not muster a touch of the ball in the Senegal box in the opening hour.

Perhaps Mina’s header means Rodriguez’s World Cup is not over. It certainly helped bring a measure of redemption for Carlos Sanchez, the recipient of that red card against Japan and, disgracefully, death threats from his homeland. The midfielder returned after suspension with a quietly efficient display.

Yet while he got the group’s sole sending-off, Senegal paid the heavier penalty for indiscipline as they went out because of bookings.