Cruel defeat puts Ecuador on the brink
Can Ecuador beat France in their final group game? It would seem to be the only way they can stay alive in the competition after their cruel stoppage-time defeat to Switzerland.
The line between success and failure can be so fine. In the same passage of play, Ecuador had a clear opportunity to pick up the three points. Luis Antonio Valencia, a disappointingly peripheral figure on Sunday, came up with his one significant burst in the match and squared to substitute Michael Arroyo, who had crashed home an equaliser when he came off the bench against England in Ecuador's final warm-up match.
This time, Arroyo dwelt for too long and was tackled. On the ensuing counterattack, impressive Swiss left-back Ricardo Rodriguez crossed low for Haris Seferovic to sweep home, the second time in the match that a Swiss substitute scored a goal within minutes of his entry.
There were times in the first half when the Swiss laid siege to the Ecuador goal, but even so, the CONMEBOL side would have felt disappointed had the game finished at 1-1. There were periods when they looked most likely to win -- and land a potential knockout blow against the team that, going into the group, seemed their most likely rival for a place in the second round.
Taking the lead halfway through the first half gave Ecuador the chance to show what they do best -- counterattack down the flanks with pace, power and skill. The Swiss would have found it hard to come back from a two-goal deficit, and toward halftime it seemed that the Europeans were wilting in the early afternoon heat. They equalised straight after the break, but as the game wore on, once more the initiative seemed to lie with the South Americans.
If Antonio Valencia failed to make much of an impression down the right, the same was not true of Jefferson Montero on the other flank. Well supplied by the crisp passing of Christian Noboa in midfield, Montero was a constant headache for the Swiss defence, which struggled to control him even though he was usually double-marked.
For all his talent, Montero's end product can be frustrating, and though there was often threat in his sinuous dribbles, too often they did not end in clear chances. In fact, converting danger into goals has been a steady problem for coach Reinaldo Rueda's side -- one that will haunt it as it looks back on a passage of play that began with match-winning potential and ended in despair.