France top Group E despite Ecuador draw
Didier Deschamps' re-worked France side qualified for the last 16 of the World Cup on top of Group E thanks to a 0-0 draw with ten-man Ecuador, but had to endure some nervy moments as the feisty South Americans went all-out.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
World Cup Group E, Matchday 3
Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro
Ecuador 0 - 0 France
Deschamps rang the changes for Les Bleus' final group-stage match and although the razor-sharp attack that saw France beat Honduras 3-0 and hammer Switzerland 5-2 was somewhat mitigated as a result - as well as by a stellar performance from Ecuador 'keeper Alexander Dominguez - there were many positives as France booked a ticket for the knockout rounds.
Chief among them was the strength-in-depth shown in France's back-line, where stopper Mamadou Sakho was the only line of continuity from the Switzerland rout as Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Lucas Digne all stepped into the starting line-up and kept the feisty Ecuadorians at bay, although there were a couple of scares along the way.
Ecuador's best chance fell for goal-machine Enner Valencia, who drew a desperate save from France captain Hugo Lloris with a fierce downward header minutes before the break (41'), but the South Americans' task of beating France and qualifying for the second round was made tougher when Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia was sent off for a dangerous tackle on PSG youngster Digne early in the second half (50').
Dominguez on fire
Deschamps would also have been pleased with France's composure on the ball despite the France boss's having made no fewer than five changes from the last match - Southampton defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin impressing in this respect in his first start for his country - and it was this calmness that allowed Les Bleus to turn several Ecuadorian counter-attack in to counter-counter-attacks in the late stages.
However, after Dominguez had produced a finger-tip save to deny Paul Pogba's angled header (38') and turned Antoine Griezmann's close-range effort onto the bar (47'), the Ecuadorian custodian continued to dominate as he turned away efforts from Blaise Matuidi (62') and Karim Benzema (84') as well as late substitutes Loïc Rémy (87') and Olivier Giroud (90').
Nigeria on the cards
Nonetheless, the scoreless result was enough for France to clinch a point and so top Group E, sending the valiant Ecuadorians crashing out and setting up a last-16 clash with Group F's second-placed side Nigeria on Monday, June 30, at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia.