Considering the quality of Kalidou Koulibaly’s volley that sent Senegal through to the last-16 of the World Cup, you could be forgiven for being surprised it was his first goal for his country. What a time to get it!
Chelsea fans have already seen the defender’s capabilities from set-pieces. His fierce volley against Tottenham back in August was not entirely dissimilar to his winning goal against Ecuador yesterday, securing the Lions of Teranga the three points they needed to leapfrog the South Americans and advance to the World Cup knockouts.
Koulibaly’s contribution in defence and attack earned him the Player of the Match prize, and he spoke afterwards about what it felt like to find the net at such a crucial moment, so soon after Ecuador had levelled the game and swung the contest in their favour.
‘It’s an amazing moment for me to score this goal,’ enthused Koulibaly.
‘It is a dream for every child to score at a World Cup, and I’m very happy it was my first goal for the national team, after 67 matches. It was worth waiting for!
‘It was difficult to concede but the coach prepared us for them to attack more strongly in the second half. We didn’t want to have any regrets at this World Cup and we gave everything. We kept believing.
‘It was a tough group. We lost the first game so we knew this game was decisive, and was one of the most important of our careers. All the team deserve it.’
The game had extra poignancy for Koulibaly and his compatriots. It fell on the second anniversary of Papa Bouba Diop’s untimely death. Bouba Diop was the hero of Senegal’s run to the quarter-finals in 2002, scoring three goals including their first ever at a World Cup, the historic winner against holders France.
Koulibaly had the no.19 on his armband in tribute to Bouba Diop, and afterwards he paid tribute to the former Fulham and Portsmouth midfielder.
‘This is for the family of Papa Bouba Diop. We wanted to make him proud and give homage to him. He made us dream, he made me dream, he made the whole nation dream.
‘I saw the videos his family posted and it really touched me. I think most Senegalese people saw them, so we had it in our heart to make the Senegalese people proud, and to make the family of Papa Bouba Diop proud.
‘He was our childhood, he was everything to Senegalese football. He was a big loss for us. He is a Senegalese legend.’
Koulibaly also used his post-match media to dedicate his goal to victims of the Ischia landslide in the Gulf of Naples, not far from the city he called home for eight years prior to joining Chelsea.
Now a meeting with three of his club team-mates awaits as Senegal prepare to face England on Sunday.
‘The next game will be tough, every game is,’ he said.
‘But the team who plays against us will be a little bit afraid. They can see we have a lot of talent - that we can do good things.
‘Now we need to rest and keep our feet on the ground. We’ve qualified which is good, we can enjoy it but then we have to concentrate on the last-16. We don’t want to make up the numbers. We want to show we are a good team, show why we are the champions of Africa, and show it on the global stage.’