Ecuador vs France World Cup 2014 match report: Antonia Valencia sees red as Ecuador’s best efforts are all in vain

Ecuador 0 France 0

France escape with a draw, and draw breath. For the first time in this World Cup, they looked to have come up against a wall. Ecuador came rather close to turning Didier Deschamps’s team over, and potentially toppling them from first place.

As it was, the French claimed top spot and a last-16 tie against Nigeria, but not without looking some way below their best.

France did not start the game like they were happy for a sedate draw to leave them top. They clearly wanted to maintain the momentum of their opening two matches, and picked up where they left off against Switzerland: by driving at an opposition defence at pace.

There was a flurry of activity around the Ecuador box in the opening stages but, on this occasion, France could not initially find the same precision as in previous games.

It took them 10 minutes to force a save from the goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez, as Antoine Griezmann finally unleashed an effort. The closest they came thereafter was a somewhat clumsily executed Paul Pogba header, and a Karim Benzema long-range shot.

France were all speed but not quite doing anything specific. It was as if they hoped the sheer pace of their play would be enough to unsettle Ecuador.

Yet, with Deschamps having rested Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Valbuena from the side that won 5-2 against Switzerland last Friday, their midfield lacked a little finesse and control.

 

Their defence certainly looked like it could be pulled wildly off course any time Enner Valencia ran at them. Without proper protection, they badly struggled with his direct drives.

It is the one big question about this French team and their chances of actually winning this World Cup, despite the very obvious progress they have made. So far, they have not really been put under pressure, and there is a slight feeling both of the first two games went their way.

Ecuador attempted to change that, with the South American side’s own urgency increased by the news that Switzerland had gone ahead early on against Honduras in Manaus.

Reinaldo Rueda’s team had to match the Swiss scoreline to go through. Here, the France  defenders occasionally struggled to match their energy, and Enner Valencia could well have made it 1-0 with a leaping header that brought an excellent reaction save from Hugo Lloris.

France at least responded as their manager might have expected. Within seconds of the re-start, Bacary Sagna had seared down the right wing and exquisitely curled the ball around for Griezmann. The Real Socieded forward did well to get such a firm touch but goalkeeper Rodriguez did even better to turn the ball onto the post.

Video: France and Ecuador fans in Rio de Janeiro

It was an elevation in quality, in all ways. It also elevated emotions. That all got a bit too much for Antonio Valencia. On 50 minutes, he recklessly lifted his studs in a race for the ball with Lucas Digne and was immediately sent off.

The loss of a player did not lead to a reduction in Ecuador’s tempo. Instead, they should really have been a goal up. Christian Noboa was presented with a chance from yet another driving break but, displaying the hesitation the rest of the team were not, the midfielder delayed his shot before sending it wide.

It said much that Deschamps replaced Mamadou Sakho with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, who was at least better able to deal with that Ecuadorian pace. The French manager was also sufficiently concerned about eventually needing a goal to bring on Olivier Giroud for Blaise Matuidi, although the midfielder had been unfortunate not to score moments beforehand. In what was the best move of the match, he exchanged passes with Benzema but could not beat Dominguez with a powerful drive.

The finale then effectively turned into an invigorating rally of runs and long-rang shots, reflecting the closeness of the table but also how open it was to change.

As it was, it did change, but not in the manner Ecuador would have wanted. Switzerland scored again and cemented second place. Ecuador become the first South American side eliminated from this World Cup.

France suddenly look a little less likely to actually go and win it.

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