Unfortunately, they could not, and now, for the first time since 1982, Africa will not have a representative in the knockout stage of a World Cup.
Yerry Mina's 74th-minute header at the Samara Arena this afternoon turned Group H on its head with Japan also going through as runners-up despite losing 1-0 to Poland.
Colombia secured their passage to the last 16 of the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Senegal which simultaneously eliminated the Africans via the fair-play rule. Senegal exit having received six yellow cards to Japan's four.
Colombia, which reached the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil, finished atop its group and is the fourth South American team to advance.
Colombia, who overcame the premature exit of injured James Rodriguez, will now play Group G's second-placed side - either England or Belgium - in Moscow on Tuesday, with Japan facing the winners of that group in Rostov-on-Don a day earlier.
Japan and Senegal were even on points, goal difference, goals scored, and they tied in their head-to-head meeting.
Senegal remained the better of the two but once again had no luck as Mane sent the last chance of the first half over goal.
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In the end, it's Colombia and Japan to the knockout stage in an open tournament full of surprises.
Yet Mina ensured Colombia were not made to pay when he headed home in the 74th minute.
But from a precarious position, Mina propelled Colombia to the top of the group when he rose highest at a corner as Senegal reshuffled following a substitution.
Intervention from VAR saw referee Milorad Mazic overturn his original decision, with replays having shown that Sanchez had expertly taken the ball off the toe of Sadio Mane as the Liverpool winger ran through on goal.
Carlos Sanchez returned to the Colombia line-up after suspension. It referenced the murder of Colombian defender Andres Escobar following an own-goal at the 1994 World Cup.
Rodriguez hasn't been at 100 per cent at any point in the tournament, but in the win over Poland, he was healthy enough to shine.
The teams will meet at 10 a.m. ET on Thursday in their final World Cup 2018 Group H game.