France striker Oliver Giroud (in white) vies for the ball © Getty Images
Rio de Janeiro: Jun 26, 2014
A hard fought goalless draw at the Maracana stadium here ensured France topped Group E in FIFA World Cup 2014, but sent their opponents, 10-man Ecuador. The straight red card for Ecuador playmaker and Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia only five minutes into the second half was the turning point of the close duel, reports Xinhua.
Valencia went in for a challenge with French defender Lucas Digne and the left-back came off worse and the French medical team rushed in. Referee Noumandiez Doue dismissed Valencia without any hesitation. Before the game, France had crushed Honduras 3-0, Switzerland 5-2, topping the group with six points and six-goal advantage. Ecuador lost 1-2 to Switzerland but beat Honduras 2-1, sharing three points with Switzerland but standing second with goal advantage.
Ecuador had to match Switzerland’s result to survive the group. But bad news came as Switzerland beat Honduras 3-0 in Manaus and advanced to the round of 16. France made seven changes to their starting line-up after their 5-2 win over Switzerland. Just Hugo Lloris, Mamadou Sakho, Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi remained. Ecuador made just one change from their victory over Honduras: Michael Arroyo replaced Felipe Caicedo.
In the 16th minute, the ball was lofted into the Ecuador box and defender Jorge Guagua sliced the ball away. It dropped to French midfielder Moussa Sissoko, who shot a volley towards goal. Ecuador keeper Alexander Dominguez comfortably collected. One minute later, Ecuador forward Enner Valencia went down after a coming-together with French defender Mamadou Sakho, and Valencia, who’s scored seven goals in his last six international games, hobbled off the pitch. But he seemed fine to continue. On 22 minutes, Valencia outpaced Sakho following a long ball from the Ecuador defence but he sliced his shot on the run.
After the red card, France almost laid siege to Ecuadoran box, but keeper Dominguez, who was named man of the match, showed his best form with countless incredible stretches, blocks and saves. In the 73rd minute, a corner was taken short to Sissoko who chipped a tempting ball to the back post from the right. Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba was completely unmarked, but his header went just past Dominguez’s left-hand post.
The 10-man Ecuador did not give up, staging flash counterattacks with personal skill and quick pace. But their shots were always off target. France enjoyed 60 percent of the ball possession and 20 shots, 13 on target, but failed to score a single goal.
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