A steep hill to the knockout stage just turned into a near vertical line for Ecuador.
With the score tied at zero and his team desperately needing three points against France—as Switzerland were simultaneously handling Honduras with ease—Antonio Valencia was sent off in the 50th minute after a brutal studs-up tackle to the leg of Lucas Digne.
World Soccer Talk provided a glimpse at the awful challenge:
While there have been some controversial decisions from the referees during this World Cup, there was no real debate to this one. It was a horrid, dangerous tackle, and not even Valencia bothered complaining, as CaughtOffside's Twitter feed noted:
To make matters worse, the dreadful foul put the 28-year-old midfielder into his country's record books—for all the wrong reasons. ESPN Stats & Info explains:
This isn't anything new for him, either. BBC Sports provided a snapshot of the worst moment of the tackle, while noting Valencia's recent propensity for being shown the color red:
As Squawka Sports added, Valencia had been mostly invisible for the first 45 minutes, making essentially no positive impact on the match:
Well, he couldn't have picked a worse way to remind everyone he was still on the pitch.
Of course, while it's a nightmare for Ecuador on the international level, it's not exactly going to make Manchester United fans feel great, either. Valencia recently signed a three-year contract extension that keeps him at Old Trafford until 2018, and many were quick to use this moment to point out the absurdity of that decision:
This was bad in pretty much every way you try to analyze it, and it continues a recent forgettable stretch for Valencia.
His and Ecuador's World Cup campaign is now likely over, and he now has a lot of work to do to repair his reputation on both the club and international scene.