France have arguably been the most impressive side in the World Cup so far, having eased to victories against Honduras and Switzerland to cement their place very nearly in the last 16.
Standing in their way of making it three wins out of three are Ecuador, whose hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage are still very much alive.
The South Americans need to equal Switzerland’s result against Honduras in Group E’s other game to qualify, but taking points off France will be no easy feat.
Venue: Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
Date: Wednesday 25 June
Time: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET
TV Info: BBC One (U.K.)/ESPN (U.S.)
France on Fire
France’s World Cup 2010 campaign was nothing short of a disaster. With just one point and one goal in the group stage, together with endless squad bust-ups, the French crashed out of South Africa’s tournament with a whimper.
Coming into Brazil, Didier Deschamps’ men had a redemption mission on their hands, and they haven’t let their nation down.
Though Group E is far from a “group of death,” France have looked in imperious form in their respective heavy victories against Honduras and Switzerland, earning plaudits from many pundits in the process—including Gary Lineker:
The French are looking very good. One day, one day I'd like to say that about England.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 20, 2014
On paper, Wednesday’s clash looks like another walkover for France, and while they can afford to ease up with their knockout-stage place practically confirmed, defender Mathieu Debuchy insists that they’ll be doing no such thing—per the Agence France-Presse (via FIFA.com):
We need to avoid taking our foot off the gas even if there is not a huge amount at stake. We want to win this match and maintain our positive dynamic in order to prepare well for what is to come. Honestly, it is great to play in this side. We feel great and I love the attacking football. I might be a defender, but I like it when everyone plays together as a team.
Playing together as a team is what’s made them look so impressive throughout the tournament, but a certain striker is standing out.
Karim Benzema, who came into the tournament in red-hot form, has been phenomenal so far, playing a part in five of France’s eight World Cup goals—per OptaJoe:
Claiming man-of-the-match awards in both games, Benzema has clearly found his feet on the big stage and will be one to watch against Ecuador.
However, Ecuador have a talented striker of their own in their ranks in Enner Valencia.
Valencia has scored all three of Ecuador’s goals in the World Cup so far and has looked a constant threat with his brute strength and pace causing endless problems.
It’s not hard to see why the 25-year-old has been linked with a whole host of Premier League clubs, and as OptaFranz revealed, his three strikes hold special significance:
Valencia will be chasing the sole possession of the title of Ecuador’s all-time top scorer on Wednesday and is more than capable of producing the goods against the French.
However, France’s brilliance all over the pitch means that even a Valencia goal could be in vain, and Deschamps and co. look to head into the knockout stage in the best possible fashion.
Prediction: Ecuador 1-4 France