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Jun 24, 2014

Ecuador vs. France: 50-50 Challenge

EcuadorEcuador
FranceFrance
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Match 42
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Ecuador midfielder Cristhian Noboa says the squad is much more relaxed after their victory against Honduras, as a win over France could see them qualify for the knockout stages.

Our expert bloggers will give their thoughts ahead of each game, so as France take on Ecuador in Group E, Julien Laurens (France) and Nick Dorrington (Ecuador) are your guides.

What's at stake?

Nick Dorrington: For Ecuador, a place in the last 16. Their victory over Honduras means they just need to match Switzerland's result on the final matchday in order to progress alongside France. If they go through, they will have matched their best-ever World Cup performance. France prospered 2-0 when the sides met in 2008 in their only previous encounter. Just two of Ecuador's current squad (Antonio Valencia and Walter Ayoví) took part in that match.

Julian Laurens:  France are playing to make sure they finish top of the group in order to avoid meeting Argentina in the next round. Indeed, they would rather face Nigeria or Iran in the last 16 than Lionel Messi and co. They will also want to keep their momentum and their confidence after two great performances in their opening two matches. Back at the Euro 2012, France had already qualified before their third game against Sweden. They lost their motivation, were beaten comprehensively (2-0) and the dressing room imploded after the loss. They won't make the same mistake this time round.

X factor

ND: Enner Valencia scored his first goal for Ecuador last November and has netted in each and every one of his subsequent five appearances for La Tri. His double against Honduras took him onto three goals for the World Cup, drawing level with Thomas Muller and co towards the top of the goal-scorer rankings. Quick across the ground and surprisingly good in the air, he is Ecuador's primary goal threat. The strong and mobile French defence will provide a good test of his abilities; if he passes, interest from European clubs is likely to be forthcoming.

JL: The whole team has been impressive so far, starting with Karim Benzema, who is in top form. However, France head coach Didier Deschamps will rotate his squad, rest some key players like Benzema probably or Patrice Evra, who was booked in the first game. Yohan Cabaye is suspended. But the X factor for Les Bleus will be Antoine Griezmann. He played very well in the first game against Honduras but was dropped for the one against Switzerland which must have been frustrating for him. He will hurt the Ecuador's defence with his pace and his skills.

Fear factor

ND: Presuming he starts -- which, with France all but assured of topping the group, could be open to doubt -- Benzema will be the main worry for the Ecuador defence. He excelled in France's 5-2 victory over Switzerland, pulling over to the left and cutting in menacingly toward goal. If he takes up a similar position on Wednesday, that would put him in direct contact with Jorge Guagua, who struggled against Carlo Costly in the win over Honduras. The quick and powerful Benzema would provide an even tougher challenge -- one that Guagua is unlikely to be up to.

JL: I don't like how Antonio Valencia has been quiet so far in this World Cup. He has not led his team like he should have and I expect him to have a good game against France on Wednesday. Les Bleus can fear him because his pace and the quality of his crosses on the right-hand side could cause them problems. Also, Evra, who is on a yellow, should be rested and Lucas Digne, only 20, should start at left-back in his first-ever World Cup game. He would face Valencia directly.

Enner Valencia has lit up the World Cup so far.

Key battle

ND: France completely overran the Swiss midfield, with Blaise Matuidi particularly impressive, and there is a danger of the same thing happening to Ecuador on Wednesday. If they are to avoid that fate, Cristhian Noboa will need to have a big game. Noboa wasn't fully fit for the defeat to Switzerland, but he looked in much better shape against Honduras. He is the one Ecuadorian midfielder capable of putting his foot on the ball and bringing some control to their play, but he will also need to be alert to keep track of Matuidi's forward runs.

JL: France could line up with a brand new pair of centre halves as Raphael Varane has a stomach bug and Mamadou Sakho felt a pain in his hamstring against Switzerland and had to leave the pitch. So Laurent Koscielny will start for the first time in his World Cup. Eliaquim Mangala will partner with him if Sakho is not fit enough to start on Wednesday. They will have to contain Enner Valencia for France to win this game. Valencia has impressed, netting all the three goals his team scored in the first two games. He is strong, quick, efficient and a handful for the defenders.

Prediction

ND: Even if they rest some of their regular starters, France will still have sufficient quality in attack to take advantage of Ecuador's defensive deficiencies. Ecuador will, however, be relatively confident of scoring. If they perform at their very best, they have a decent chance of getting the draw that is likely to be enough to see them through. Ecuador 2-2 France.

JLI predict France to win 2-1. The confidence and the momentum of this French team are massive. Even without some key players, they will play in the same way they did against Honduras and Switzerland. They will also keep the same team spirit and the same mentality. Their pace going forward, their movement and permutations will be too much to handle for Ecuador.

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