Ecuador are set to take on France on Wednesday in Group E's final block of matches. This showdown, hosted at the Maracana in Rio, will ultimately decide La Tri's fate. They sit second in the group on goal difference, but must hope to match or better Switzerland's result against Honduras.
France have so far been ruthless in this competition, notching eight goals over their two matches and conceding just twice. This includes putting five past the usually strong Swiss defense, a result that surely looms large in Ecuador boss Reinaldo Rueda's mind.
Can Ecuador hold strong to pull out the result? They've shown in recent weeks that they can hang with Europe's best. Draws against the Netherlands and England preceded the tournament, and they were mere seconds away from pulling out a point against Switzerland.
Didier Deschamps' side, though, provides an entirely new level of challenge for Ecuador. How will this one play out? Read on for a preview.
Heading into this match, we can pretty much nail down the formations likely to be used.
Ecuador are well set on their wide-driven 4-4-2 formation. Full-backs Juan Carlos Paredes and Walter Ayovi step up frequently to support wide men Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero in attacking play, looking to supply their red-hot striker Enner Valencia.
The defensive side of La Tri's game hasn't been spectacular in Brazil. The partnership of Jorge Guagua and Frickson Erazo has had its fair share of rough patches, including letting Haris Seferovic free to score the winner in the opener.
In midfield, Cristhian Noboa has probably been Ecuador's best player not named Enner, acting as the central passing hub and breaking up play consistently in midfield. The Dynamo Moscow man has had different partners in the two matches, but has looked solid either way.
This bunch will come to face France's deadly 4-3-3.
The back line of Mathieu Debuchy, Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho and Patrice Evra has put in a strong showing, with the 21-year-old Varane preferred to Laurent Koscielny and continuing to make a name for himself.
Of course, we should be quite familiar with the strength of France's midfield. Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye have been immense so far, with Paul Pogba and Moussa Sissoko trading great shifts alongside that pair.
Mathieu Valbuena, of course, has the freedom to move everywhere between the midfield and attack, as evidenced by his tap-in goal on the break against Switzerland. His movement will give Ecuador's back six fits all match, and Noboa will have to step up big to shut down his passing.
And of course, you can't go without mentioning the unstoppable force that is Karim Benzema and whoever his partner is, be it Olivier Giroud or Antoine Griezmann. Benzema's three goals put him alongside Enner Valencia near the top of the scoring charts, and has been imperious even when he's not scoring.
Key matchups to watch
Of course, Ecuador's main attacking threats will come from wide, led by Montero and Antonio Valencia. The pair will look to threaten the likes of Debuchy and Evra early and often, with Paredes and Ayovi available in support.
In this match, however, the full-backs might be rather preoccupied with containing the fluid attacking force they're faced with. Benzema, Valbuena and Giroud all move consistently across the line, making them difficult to pin down.
This might dampen some of Ecuador's offensive potential, but with Enner Valencia likely to cause his own problems up top, the wing men will at least have a pivotal outlet. The No. 13 will have to be available to support the flanks and spread the French defensive unit.
On the other end, as mentioned before, Cristhian Noboa has a major task at hand in trying to contain the likes of Valbuena and Cabaye. The two diminutive Frenchmen are supreme distributors, pinging passes left and right to the dangerous players around them.
Noboa's role in the heart of the midfield is centered upon breaking up such attacking play, while his partner—be it Carlos Gruezo or Oswaldo Minda—will be more reserved. With Benzema moving everywhere and Matuidi willing to go forward, the midfield will be hectic.
Noboa is the clear main man in the middle hoping to calm things down and limit the damage.
Before Group E kicked off, a 3-1 win for France was predicted. Now that we've seen each team in action twice, it's really hard to see anything much different from that.
France's attack is hard to stop, especially with a less-than-stellar Ecuador defense. Enner Valencia seems likely to poach a goal somewhere in this match, but unless Honduras can pull out a shock victory of their own, this looks like the end of the road for Rueda and La Tri.
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