by Valery Villena © Valery Villena (June 25th 2014)
France could not find a way to breach Ecuador’s defense even though the South Americans played with only ten men since the 50th minute after their captain Antonio Valencia was sent off in this intensely contested match which did not produce a winner – it was a 0-0 draw, but could have easily ended in a French victory or even an Ecuadorian triumph, as both teams had good chances to score. The result saw France advance as group winners and Ecuador was eliminated.
Prior to this encounter Didier Deschampsʼ French team was viewed by some as serious contenders in this exciting World Cup – already considered by most to be the best tournament ever – after destroying Honduras (3-0) and Switzerland (5-2) in their first two matches.
In the sixth minute French defender Mamadou Sakho was extremely fortunate not to be sent off by the Ivorian referee Noumandiez Doué after delivering an elbow to the face of Ecuador’s midfielder Oswaldo Minda. The tens of thousands of Ecuadorian fans who packed the Estádio do Maracanã felt aggrieved and showed their disgust and disapproval by jeering the referee who did not even book the offender.
The game was evenly matched with France enjoying a little more possession. In the 37th minute les Bleus had their best chance when Morgan Schneiderlin’s excellent cross resulted in Juventusʼ midfielder Paul Pogbaʼs header which was heading for the opening goal, but a spectacular save from ʻman of the matchʼ Ecuadorian goal-keeper Alexander Domínguez. Three minutes later it was his French counterpart Hugo Lloris’ turn to save a point blank header from Enner Valencia.
Almost immediately at the start of the second half, Antonio Valencia saw red for a studs- showing tackle on Paris Saint-Germainʼs Lucas Digne, who laid on the pitch injured and received medical treatment. It was a well-deserved red card that the Ecuadorian captain could not protest in the least bit.
Following the sending-off, France saw most of the ball and came close to scoring a few times through Blaise Matuidi, Karim Benzema, Pogba and Oilivier Giroud, but Domínguez’s spectacular play in goal kept his team in the game. Ecuador also enjoyed a few chances to score, but Enner Valencia, Renato Ibarra and Michael Arroyo’s shots were well rebuffed by Lloris.
Ecuador kept defending heroically and counter-attacking at every chance, looking for the goal and the victory which could give them a spot in the next round. The game opened up with chances galore for both teams, but both keepers were superb. However, in a bizarre move, in the 82nd minute, Ecuador’s manager, the Colombian Reinaldo Rueda, removed forward Michael Arroyo and brought in defender Gabriel Achilier.
It seemed a bizarre decision as if he thought Ecuador would progress to the next round by hanging on to the 0-0 draw. Seven minutes later and almost into stoppage time, Rueda brought in striker Felipe Caicedo, who had been a starter until today’s match, but it proved too late.
An intense and exciting 0-0 draw meant Ecuador had once again failed to reach the last sixteen. The result means that France as group winners will be joined by Switzerland –who crushed Honduras 3-0- as the two teams from Group E that advance to the Round of 16 where they will meet Nigeria and Argentina respectively.