Ecuador will take on Honduras on Friday in Group E's second round of matches. The June 20 showdown in Curitiba provides Reinaldo Rueda's side a chance to shake off the heartbreaking last-gasp loss to Switzerland on Sunday.
The performance in Ecuador's opener was probably not up to the standard Rueda would have hoped for. Enner Valencia's first-half goal certainly would've buoyed feelings going into the half, but La Tri left a lot of questions unanswered going into the break and were duly punished.
Looking ahead to the next match, Honduras should provide an easier matchup than Ottmar Hitzfeld's squad. This should give Rueda an opportunity to tinker with a few things and improve his side's chances of advancing out of Group E.
What are some areas that need to be addressed? Here are just a couple major ones.
Ecuador's defensive play has constantly been a major weakness.
Both of Switzerland's goals could be pegged down to some shaky defensive work. The equalizer early in the second half was a header by Admir Mehmedi, who had been on the pitch barely two minutes, from a great corner-kick delivery from Ricardo Rodriguez.
Midfielder Carlos Gruezo failed in the aerial challenge and keeper Alexander Dominguez, who returned to the starting lineup after not featuring in pre-tournament friendlies, missed as well. Dominguez's return was a welcome sign as he replaced the shaky Maximo Banguera, but it wasn't the best of performances from the stopper.
Dominguez, known in Ecuador as Dida after the Brazilian great, had been battling a hand injury for a while. Banguera struggled in the build-up to the tournament as Dominguez fought for fitness, and the LDU Quito stopper was deemed good to go for this one.
However, it was apparent that he was not at his best. He put forth a middling effort between the sticks, showing decent reflexes but missing a number of simple opportunities. Hopefully, he can put these first-match jitters behind him.
Gruezo was one of Ecuador's weakest links in this match, continually dragged around by the movement of Switzerland's young and energetic midfield. This left space that Hitzfeld's side exploited, eventually leading to the game-winner on the break.
Walter Ayovi and Juan Carlos Paredes worked hard on the flanks as usual, while Jorge Guagua and Frickson Erazo put in solid enough shifts. However, the central men couldn't stop Haris Seferovic on the break, and it cost them dearly.
Honduras does not pose the same threat going forward as Switzerland, but they showcase enough talent to keep Rueda's side honest. The back seven—including Gruezo and Cristhian Noboa, who was the best in the midfield against the Swiss—need to buckle down and put in a strong collective performance.
Ecuador captain Antonio Valencia is easily the best-known player on this squad. His exploits over the last several years playing in England have bolstered his reputation immensely. So much so that he was handed the famed No. 7 shirt at Manchester United, following the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, over the last couple of seasons, his performance has waned by quite a margin. His pace is still an asset, but his delivery, in many cases, has been suspect.
His showing against Switzerland left plenty to be desired, and the only real impact he made in pre-tournament friendlies was on Raheem Sterling's neck. In many ways, he is quickly becoming overshadowed by the unrelated Enner Valencia, whose goalscoring exploits have raised his stock significantly.
You have to wonder if, should he continue to struggle, Rueda might consider pulling the plug on his skipper in crunch time. He does have an excellent talent waiting in the wings in the form of Vitesse's Renato Ibarra.
Ibarra is not unlike Jefferson Montero on the left, in that he's a small, tricky winger who will cut inside willingly and take on his defender without hesitation. He can provide a much-needed spark to Ecuador's counter-attacking play, which could be crucial if Ecuador's defense continues to struggle.
Valencia will go up against another solid left-back in Emilio Izaguirre after a long battle with Ricardo Rodriguez. It will be interesting to see if the Celtic man can contain Valencia and his Swiss counterpart, taking one half of Ecuador's wing-based attack out of the picture.
Montero continues to make an impact on the left, while Enner Valencia is like a man possessed through the middle. But if the man on the right can't get it done, it will drag everything down. Valencia must turn things around if Ecuador are to go anywhere in this competition.
What other areas must Ecuador address? Comment below and feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.
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