Key Battles That Will Shape France's World Cup Clash with Ecuador
Ecuador will try to play a balanced game when they face France in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday in the final round of matches in Group E.
France currently top the group and are highly likely to progress as group winners regardless of results on the third matchday. Ecuador need to equal or better Switzerland’s result against Honduras in order to progress alongside France in second place.
Here are the key battles that will shape the World Cup clash between Ecuador and France.
Christian Noboa vs. Blaise Matuidi
France dominated Switzerland in the middle of the pitch in their 5-2 victory last time out, with Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi overpowering their Swiss counterparts.
Matuidi was particularly impressive, breaking up play and driving forward in support of those in the final third.
“I see him in the 6-yard box and then, straight away, he’s already in the opponent’s 6-yard box,” Didier Deschamps said of his midfielder on Monday, as per The Associated Press.
Christian Noboa is likely to be Matuidi's direct opponent on Wednesday. Matuidi will have an important role to play in closing down the Ecuador midfielder and preventing him from making use of his extensive passing range.
Noboa is the one Ecuador midfielder who is comfortable putting his foot on the ball and bringing order to their play. This controlling influence could be vital in a match in which Ecuador will strive to manage the tempo, fearful of being overrun in the same manner as the Swiss.
Noboa has to show a cool head on Wednesday, probably under great pressure from Matuidi, if Ecuador are to get something from the match and progress to the last 16.
Karim Benzema vs. Jorge Guagua
Karim Benzema has scored three goals in two matches for France at this World Cup. He is currently joint-second in the top goalscorer rankings, alongside Ecuador’s Enner Valencia and three others.
But it is not just his touch in front of goal that has been impressive—Benzema’s all-round play has also been worthy of praise. That was particularly the case against Switzerland, when he notched two assists and took home the man-of-the-match award.
“He’s a top-notch player and he just continues doing what he has been doing for us since he first came into the squad,” Didier Deschamps said, as per FIFA.com. “He’s very effective and it’s very important to have someone like him around.”
If Benzema starts against Ecuador, he is likely to be marked by Jorge Guagua. The Emelec defender struggled against Carlo Costly in Ecuador’s win over Honduras. He was also grateful to the linesman for incorrectly flagging for offside when his missed clearance allowed Josip Drmic to score from close range in the defeat to Switzerland.
If Jayro Campos had not suffered a ruptured achilles tendon earlier this year, ruling him out of the World Cup, it is highly unlikely that Guagua would have found his way into Reinaldo Rueda’s starting XI. He is not an international-quality defender, and Benzema will be confident of getting the better of him on Wednesday.
Mathieu Debuchy vs. Jefferson Montero
Jefferson Montero has been lively for Ecuador in both of their matches. He is an eternally frustrating player, with his final ball often letting him down, but his pace and tricky dribbling have nevertheless caused opposing defences a number of problems.
He won the free-kick that led to Enner Valencia’s goal in the defeat to Switzerland. In addition, by holding his width, Montero creates space in the inside left channel. Valencia regularly received the ball in this zone in the second half of the match against Honduras.
Mathieu Debuchy is likely to be Montero’s direct opponent on Wednesday. The French full-back has impressed in his defensive work to date and has the necessary energy and determination to give Montero a good game.
Going the other way, Debuchy is yet to provide the same quality of end product as his fellow full-back Patrice Evra. Montero did a solid job of tracking back with Stephan Lichtsteiner in Ecuador’s defeat to Switzerland, but space could open up for Debuchy to break past him if Ecuador find themselves chasing a particular result in the closing stages.
This battle between a quick winger and a dynamic full-back has the potential to be both intriguing and decisive. A similar contest will also be fought on the opposite flank between Manchester United teammates Antonio Valencia and Evra.