Three Points: Entertaining Ecuador rally to defeat Honduras
Three quick thoughts on Ecuador's come-from-behind victory over Honduras in Group E.
1. Unfancied fixture throws up plenty of fun
With over a week in the books, the 2014 World Cup has been pure sensory overload. Thirty-one teams -- and England -- willing to keep their feet on the accelerator and Dukes-of-Hazzard their way through every game. You'd have been forgiven for picking Honduras vs. Ecuador as a chance to recharge the batteries, but as has been custom this summer, it was another wild and entertaining clash.
France's 5-2 evisceration of Switzerland earlier on Friday set the tone for what these sides needed to do: attack, attack, attack. That both sides were stuck on zero points after their first games -- Ecuador edged in injury time by the Swiss, 10-man Honduras humbled by Les Bleus -- only served to reinforce the need for victory.
And attack, they both did. It was a sloppy, contentious game full of poor passing and aimless dribbles, but the pace of both attacks opened up countless scoring chances, some of which were converted with panache.
Honduras opened the scoring in surprisingly artful fashion, Carlo Costly taking time away from chewing on a straw, toothpick or piece of Yohan Cabaye's shirt to rifle a shot beyond Alexander Dominguez after Jorge Guagua's botched header merely skidded the ball into Costly's path. All in all, a low-fi version of Luis Suarez's game-winner against England on Thursday afternoon.
Another defensive blunder created the equalizer barely four minutes later, Enner Valencia poking home Juan Carlos Paredes' low angled cross at the back post after Brayan Beckeles lost track of the red-hot striker, who's tallied in six straight games for La Tri.
Thus continued the mania; Jerry Bengtson bundled in a second Honduran goal on the stroke of half-time only for the linesman to wave it off for an inadvertent handball.
With the game knotted 1-1 at halftime, it appeared that only one side possessed the quality to pull away in the second half, and Ecuador did just that on 64 minutes. Another set piece goal, too, Walter Ayovi's lofted delivery finding Valencia alarmingly unmarked in the box, his flicked downward header more than enough to beat Noel Valladares at his back post for his seventh goal in a remarkable run.
A raft of long shots, acrobatic tackles and near misses punctuated the remaining half-hour but Ecuador held on for, on balance, a deserved win.
The victory all but ended Los Catrachos' World Cup campaign -- barring some improbable scorliness -- though the history books will show that thanks to the calendar, they lasted longer in Brazil than both Spain and England. Ecuador, meanwhile, live to fight for second place and take on France next week.
2. Fighting for Second Place
Tim Vickery wrote about Ecuador's battle following a difficult year that saw the sudden death of striker and talisman Christian "Chucho" Benitez. Coach Reinaldo Rueda rallied his side, refocused their efforts and they came to Brazil seeming as strong as ever. The work of Valencia up front, Ayovi in midfield and Jefferson Montero out wide served as galvanizing touchstones upon which the rest of the squad could lean.
They considered themselves unlucky to seize a 1-0 lead over Switzerland, only for naive defending to leave them defeated, 2-1, thanks to a 93rd-minute goal on the counter-attack. Here they fell behind through more slackness at the back but recovered with charm.
Their pace throughout was the difference; a step quicker to every 50-50 ball, a yard sharper on every run, an inch more accurate on the crosses that mattered.
Heading into a tricky contest with high-flying France -- two games, two wins, eight goals scored and just one conceded -- will be the ultimate litmus test for their misshapen side.
It's also worth noting that should they advance, Argentina will be likely waiting for them in the round of 16.
It's too early in the tournament for significant trends but the work of CONCACAF sides at this World Cup has been undeniably impressive.
Often mocked as one of the world's less-powerful footballing regions, North and Central America have rocked nearly all comers so far. Costa Rica beat Uruguay and Italy. The U.S. battled and overcame historical bogey side, Ghana. Thanks to Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico held Brazil to a well-deserved draw after edging Cameroon in their rain-soaked Group A opener.
The only blip on the region is Honduras, but it was to be expected, given their reliance on over-aggressive play in midfield that cost them Wilson Palacios to a second yellow card barely 40 minutes into their opening game against France.
The region has much to be proud of based on the early going. Just don't count on Honduras to contribute before they head home.