France surprisingly didn't roll over 10-man Ecuador in Wednesday's match, as La Tri held on for a 0-0 draw.
Despite the disadvantage, Ecuador nearly created an incredible, against-all-odds win mired in controversy, which set social media outlets ablaze.
Les Bleus seemed to be coasting throughout the game, since they had already clinched a spot in the knockout stage. Unfortunately for Ecuador, they needed a win to advance to the next round.
Why did Ecuador fall short? Wait, why were they still close with a numbers disadvantage? And shouldn't France have done better after their shellacking of Honduras and Switzerland?
The three key themes of the match, one which could spell doom for the France national team, will answer all of those questions and more.
Opinions are split on Antonio Valencia's red-card challenge
In the 50th minute of Ecuador vs. France, La Tri midfielder Antonio Valencia was sent off after a studs-up challenge. Supposedly the end of Ecuador's chances to advance, reactions were fiery on whether or not the challenge deserved a red card:
If Van Gaal is as good as they say he will ship Antonio Valencia to as far as possible from Old Trafford. What a waste of space.— Fernando Duarte (@Fernando_Duarte) June 25, 2014
@MUFC_today But Digne slid into his path, and made contact with the ball (as shown in the pic). Was Valencia supposed to anticipate that???— arsenal göönner (@arsenalgooners) June 25, 2014
@MUFC_today was unlucky the way the ball jumped out the way but after the way he reacted to Sterlings challenge he can't really complain— alan evans (@AEvans8982) June 25, 2014
After viewing the challenge at least a thousand times, it looks like Valencia's intent was to go for the ball, which he did get first. The referee could have let it slide but decided to enforce the action strictly by the rules.
Ultimately, that's just bad luck for Ecuador and Valencia, who has been sent off in two of his last four games, per Yahoo! Sports’ Callum Hamilton.
With just 10 men against the juggernaut of Group E, it looked like Ecuador was going to be run out of Rio de Janeiro for good.
Then the match got interesting.
La Tri started heating up on offense when substitutes Renato Ibarra and Michael Arroyo were in for Valencia and Jefferson Montero.
In the 81st minute, both had prime scoring opportunities, but their inexperience ultimately got the better of them. Arroyo's attempt harmlessly hit the side-netting, and Ibarra's shot went right to the goalkeeper.
The absence of Valencia actually helped wake up Ecuador's attack, and the fresh legs of Ibarra and Arroyo were crucial in making the game so heartbreakingly close.
Still, it would have been interesting to see how Ecuador fared in full-time with Valencia and equal numbers.
Lukewarm reaction to France's performance
France weren't at full power Wednesday—manager Didier Deschamps rested Mathieu Valbuena the entire match and Olivier Giroud in the first half. But the ineffectiveness of the rest of the French squad was concerning.
For some, the lackluster performance proves that France aren't top-tier World Cup contenders.
France are another team that have been given too much praise. We've seen tonight they over-rated. Germany will beat them in the quarters.— Neymarred (@Neymarred) June 25, 2014
Even Giroud admits the team needs to perform better.
Spoke to Olivier Giroud after the game, he said France need to find a killer instinct in front of goal on Monday v Nigeria— Ian Abrahams (Moose) (@BroadcastMoose) June 25, 2014
Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.
I still don't think that France have had a real test in this World-Cup, looking forward to seeing them a top team and see how they fare.— Liam (@OffsideLiam) June 25, 2014
What happened versus Ecuador is what detractors are leaning on. Les Bleus dominated both time of possession and shots on goal, per ESPNFC.
|Shots||Shots on Goal||Time of Possession|
The problem was that France couldn't finish any of their opportunities. France easily dominated the statistics but never kicked into that deadly second gear. No one had a standout performance, but the New York Times’ Lawrie Mifflin wrote that out of all the French footballers, young midfielder Paul Pogba seemed to struggle the most.
Paul Pogba, in particular, saw his shots miss their target in every conceivable way — wide left, wide right, over the bar, straight at the goalkeeper. He wasn't the only one, but his misses were the most frequent and most flagrant.
It was also an off-game for Karim Benzema, who roasted Honduras and Switzerland with a total of three goals. Benzema had an easy chance to score in the 85th minute with an excellent pass from Giroud, but fired straight at the goalkeeper for what seemed like the 100th time.
The type of performance France had isn't the norm nor should it be going forward in the World Cup.
They won't eviscerate Nigeria or Germany like they did to Group E. However, Benzema and Giroud should bounce back to their typical level of play, and Valbuena will be back. France might not advance as deeply as their country is expecting them to, but they won't be an easy out, either.
Alexander Dominguez gave Ecuador a fighting chance
Ecuador went blow-for-blow with France because Alexander Dominguez made it so.
France finishing was poor tonight but Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez set the tone with some superb saves, causing French to rush.— Jerome Pugmire (@jeromepugmire) June 25, 2014
Ecuador's MVPs in the tournament are Enner Valencia and Alexander Dominguez. They're the only ones who played with passion and hunger.— Michael Pacas (@MikePacas) June 25, 2014
France's presence was never-ending on Wednesday. True, they didn't pose a threat on every shot, but they were able to create some great opportunities.
The 27-year-old goalkeeper was tested, and he passed with flying colors. Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe says it best during his excellent analysis on the match:
The Ecuador goalkeeper made nine saves, per WhoScored.com, in an unbelievable display of athleticism and shot-stopping. Granted, some of the strikes were straight at him, but he was called into action frequently and never disappointed.
The unimpressive start for Ecuador's offense would have frustrated even the best of goalkeepers. Luckily, Dominguez played the game of his life, and he made sure La Tri had a fighting chance even though the odds were stacked against them.
He deservedly won man of the match. Without him, the game would have been an afterthought.
Although the match didn't have a single goal scored, nod to Dominguez, Ecuador vs. France lit up the social media landscape.
Part of this was due to Ecuador's underdog narrative, but Valencia's red card and France's shortcomings were—and will continue to be—dissected as some of the most notable moments in this year's World Cup.