After the completion of the group stage for the first four groups, Conmebol (the South American football federation) has not disappointed. Thus far, the other four representatives have qualified for the knockout stages, keeping with tradition that see’s South American sides shine on home soil during the World Cup. Ecuador is the fifth and final representative, but can they get a result against France?
Coming into Brazil, France flew under virtually everyone’s radar. Sure everyone was talking, but it was always about Spanish hopes for a second straight World Cup victory, if the Dutch would succeed under Louis van Gaal, would Germany finally win another tournament and what the chances were of a Brazil v Argentina final. France was still trying to erase the memories their disastrous 2010 campaign, as well as having to go through a qualification playoff against the Ukraine – they came to Brazil without the weight of expectation, and it is paying off in bunches for Didier Deschamps’ men.
Still and yet, we have seen what non-European sides can do in this tournament. Of the eight teams to secure passage into the knockout stage, only two are European, added to the four that hail from South America and the remaining two from Concacaf. France are not officially qualified, and a loss to Ecuador coupled with what will have to be the best 90min display in the history of Swiss football could see them crash out. The odds of the latter of those two events happening are slim, and Rio may not be the high altitude of Quito, but you can never count out Ecuador pulling off a result. Here is our preview and prediction.
Projected Starting XI’s
France: Hugo Lloris; Patrice Evra, Mamadou Sakho, Raphael Varane, Mathieu Debuchy; Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba; Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Valbuena
Ecuador: Alexander Dominguez; Walter Ayovi, Frickson Erazo, Jorge Guagua, Juan Peredes; Cristian Noboa, Oswaldo Minda; Jefferson Montero, Antonio Valencia; Enner Valencia, Felipe Caicedo
Key’s for France:
- Even though it is technically a 4-3-3, the deployment of both Giroud and Benzema in the XI is a playmakers dream for France. Not only does that give two target man for Valbuena to supply, but it gives to separate focal points of the attack at any moment, which allows the midfielders that much more space in front of them to make late runs to the top of the box – Deschamps must stick to this set-up.
- Making sure that Paul Pogba keeps his cool is absolutely vital. His talent is unquestionable, but he does have a habit of being set off far too easily. Not only would a booking mean he will be absent for the round of 16, but his effectiveness in 50/50 challenges and trying to win the ball back for France would be severely hindered. He just needs to stick to what he does best.
- Tempering the forward runs of the full-backs. There are few sides in this World Cup that can run full-out for as long as Ecuador can, and with the pace that they have as well. Montero and Antonio Valencia have fantastic pace on the wings, and strikers Enner Valencia and Caicedo are no slouches. France are brilliant when they transition and go forward, but they must be wary of the same from Ecuador.
Key’s for Ecuador:
- They must not concede an early goal. In a nightmare scenario, France opens the scoring in the first 15minutes and forces Ecuador to open up even further in search of a goal, and when that happens, France will kill you off. Ecuador must keep their shape, defend well, press in the midfield when they are able and then carve out any chance from there.
- Use their pace, fitness and their experience in that type of climate to their advantage. If Ecuador can run France ragged to the point where tired legs become a real problem for the French, they have every chance in the world of picking up a result – that is, if they are not chasing a result themselves.
- Get under the skin of the French players, in particular Pogba. There is something to be said about the effectiveness of just pissing people off when on the pitch. Whether it is to try to get them into card trouble, make them reactionary or just put them off their game, if France are not their best on the day, it only stands to help Ecuador and their cause.
- Enner Valencia v Mamadou Sakho – Everyone questioned the selection of Sakho over Laurent Koscielny, but this far, it seems to have been the right call. While he is playing out of his shoes this tournament to his credit, his one cause for concern should be aerial prowess of Valencia as aerial duels are not his strongest suit. Ecuador seeking deliveries to Valencia in the air has been their bread and butter, and he has not disappointed in banging those chances home. Sakho must negate those opportunities else France could be in trouble.
- France’s midfield v Ecuador’s midfield – We have said time and time again how matches are won and lost in midfield, and nothing holds more true than this matchup. If Ecuador wins the battle, it cuts off the vast majority of creativity and string-pulling that France relies on to spring into action going forward into the final third. If France wins the battle, well, it’s curtains for Ecuador.
- Walter Ayovi v Mathieu Valbuena – When France’s midfield isn’t running the show, this little guy is. No one is having a bigger laugh than the diminutive dynamo after Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri both missed out on playing this summer (as both used to tease him during their days at Marseilles for his lack of height) – he has been France’s best player, despite the impressive showings from Karim Benzema. Even if Ecuador does neutralize the midfield, Ayovi must do everything in his power and then some to keep Valbuena in his back pocket.
Ecuador really do play passionately, and with the untimely death of Christian Benitez still in their hearts and minds, you really cannot bet against them to turn up a strong performance on home soil. On the other side of the coin however, there is a France team that is buzzing with a ton of quality and far more cohesion than anyone anticipated – they have propelled themselves into the argument for a deep tournament run, and I don’t see that freight train coming to a halt today. For me, 2-1 France – they just have too many creative players.