'Touch the stars' - Joy in Senegal as team reach World Cup last 16

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Fans in Dakar watch Ecuador v Senegal - Dakar, Senegal - November 29, 2022 Senegal fans celebrate after Senegal's Ismaila Sarr scores their first goal REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

DAKAR (Reuters) - Joyous crowds celebrated in Senegal's capital Dakar on Tuesday as cheers and car horns rang out in gridlocked streets after the West African country qualified to the knockout stage of the World Cup in Qatar with a 2-1 victory over Ecuador.

"IMMENSE! What a match! What players!" Senegal President Macky Sall said on Twitter. "Now go and touch the stars."

Thousands of fans sporting the green, yellow and red of Senegal's flag had flocked to screens set up across the city.

"It is joy... We have done it," screamed supporter Youssouf Niang. "It was so stressful after they equalized, but this is deliverance," he exclaimed.

A large crowd gathered under the African Renaissance Monument was nervously quiet until Ismaila Sarr scored a 44th-minute penalty that gave Senegal a 1-0 halftime lead against Ecuador.

Ecuador equalised through Moises Caicedo before Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly netted a second goal for the Lions of Teranga.

Senegal has played in three World Cups including the current one and is one of five African teams taking part in Qatar.

Manager Alioune Cisse also coached his country at the last World Cup in Russia, when they were eliminated at group stage against Japan on fair play points. He also oversaw Senegal's first Africa Cup of Nations victory in February this year, which set high expectations for the current World Cup.

"It was a difficult match... Ecuador wasn't an easy team but the team got the job done," Jacob Casa Badji told Reuters after Tuesday's victory.

Senegal in 2002 became the second African team to qualify for a World Cup quarter finals after Cameroon in 1990. Ghana joined the club in 2010. No African team has yet reached semi finals.

A 2002 World Cup group match victory over Senegal's former colonizer France, played in Seoul, is a highlight of the nation's football history. Dakar locals maintain that a popular restaurant and sports bar, the "Seoul II", was named after that win.

(Reporting by Bate Felix; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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