Ecuador had a brave second half playing with 10 men against the French and came out with a 0-0 draw on Wednesday, but that wasn’t enough to make it to the second round.
Result wise, Ecuador didn’t have a disappointing performance. In fact, with the four points earned in Group E, it could have qualified to the next round if Honduras had been able to at least get a draw from the Swiss. With those same four points, it will have qualified in Argentina’s group. That didn’t happen, and the team has been eliminated.
What went wrong?
Ecuador has an interesting number of talented players who are praised for their skills to exploit the wings. The expectation was that Antonio Valencia on the right side and Jefferson Montero on the left side were going to dominate the wings and create constant dangerous plays. Their speed and dribbling skills should have been fundamental to keep bombarding the rival’s box with crosses or shots.
That never happened on a constant basis in any of the three group-stage matches.
Ecuador’s biggest star is its captain, Manchester United right-winger Valencia. He disappeared for extended periods of time during the first couple of games and scarcely showed any of the talent that has earned him a spot in the English club.
To make it even worse, he was irresponsible and showed no respect for his teammates' effort when he deservedly got himself expelled from Wednesday night’s game. Valencia got a red card before the fifth minute of the second half. He was the team captain—the one who had to keep his team motivated, and the one supposed to control the team’s temper in crucial moments.
Valencia failed Ecuador in a football level and also in a leadership role.
He is not the only player who failed to perform up to the expectations. Felipe Caicedo was brilliant during the South American qualifiers and barely did anything relevant in his playing time against Switzerland and Honduras.
Even Montero was a disappointment. Montero even had the benefit of the doubt from coach Reinaldo Rueda, who tried to play him on the left and on the right. It didn’t matter where he played—his talent was absent.
It is also fair to say that not all players were disappointing.
Enner Valencia managed to score three goals in the tournament. Against the French, he showed his desire to win. He created chances with pure speed, fought for every ball on top and did an impressive jump for a header in the first half that Hugo Lloris saved.
Christian Noboa had an outstanding effort against the French. The problem is that his effort couldn’t make up for his lack of talent to score on a clear chance in the second half.
Goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez also played a great game, saving numerous French chances.
Other than the players, there is also a degree of blame on Coach Rueda. He came through one of the most difficult qualifiers in the world and gave Ecuador the chance to showcase at a World Cup for a third time. This is why it makes it completely inexplicable that he didn’t risk it all against France when he needed the win.
Rueda decided to come out with only Enner Valencia on top, and for the most part, he was very lonely. He got Antonio Valencia on a higher position, but that didn’t quite work. And Michael Arroyo, who is a forward known for his finishing skills, played as a midfielder. Arroyo did what he could and it wasn’t bad, but the territory he dominates is not in the midfield area.
Rueda’s decisions turned unbelievable when he made his two last substitutions. With less than 10 minutes left, he took out Arroyo to get a defender in. And Caicedo came out from the bench with only a minute left.
Switzerland was already beating Honduras by two goals on the first 30 minutes, which meant that Ecuador knew that it needed to win against France.
Rueda never allowed his team to freely go up or at least pull up the lines. He was too cautious when it was the time to risk it all. He got a draw that doesn’t help Ecuador and left a bitter flavor; losing at the hands of France risking it all at least would have left a feeling that the team had tried everything in its hand.
However, despite all the underachieving performances from the players and the coach's poor decisions, Ecuador really lost its opportunity of making it to the second round on the last minute of the game against Switzerland. On that last minute of stoppage time, Ecuador could have won the game, but its irresponsible players decided not to come back after a missed chance and the Europeans won the game on the counterattack.
Ecuador leaves Brazil with its head down as the only CONMEBOL team eliminated in the group stage.