July 24 2014 Latest news:
Mark Shales, Reporter
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Group E: France 0 Ecuador 0
France topped Group E with a goalless draw against 10-man Ecuador at the Maracana Stadium, as the Tri-colours became the first South American side to exit the tournament.
Already through to the knockout stages, having beaten Switzerland and Honduras, a much-changed Les Bleus side were out to prove they had the strength in depth required to be considered realistic tournament contenders.
Manager Didier Deschamps made six changes to his team, including a first-ever start for Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin who only made the trip to Brazil after a late injury to Lyon midfielder Clement Grenier.
Ecuador occupied the group’s runners-up spot before kick-off, edging Switzerland through goal difference, but news filtered though of a Swiss goal in the group’s other fixture early on, immediately putting pressure on the South Americans.
As if the task wasn’t hard enough, the Tri-colours were forced to play much of the second half a man down after captain Antonio Valencia was controversially sent off for a two-footed challenge on Lucas Digne.
But what appeared to be a harsh decision from an Ecuadorian viewpoint actually seemed to ignite Reinaldo Rueda’s men, who began to up the intensity going forward with the knowledge that only a win would keep their Brazilian adventure alive.
Although chances fell to both sides it was the two goalkeepers who had the biggest impact upon the final score.
Ex-Manchester United youngster Paul Pogba came closest for France eight minutes before the break but his goal-bound header was tipped over the bar by a theatrical Alexander Dominguez.
Moments later Ecuador striker Enner Valencia was denied by the outstretched leg of Tottenham shot-stopper Hugo Lloris at the other end.
Antoine Griezmann’s flicked volley was pushed on to the post by Dominguez two minutes after the break, before the Ecuadorian was called upon to deny a well-worked effort from Blaise Matuidi, just after the hour-mark.
The former bus conductor produced the stand-out performance of the night with his string of important saves for Ecuador, although Deschamps will no doubt question the quality of his side’s finishing – many a shot fired straight at the keeper.
Despite the high stakes, the South Americans appeared content with a draw, waiting until the 90th minute to bring on another centre-forward in the form of Felipe Caicedo – by which time Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri had completed his hatrick elsewhere against Honduras.
France will count themselves lucky to have finished the game with 11 men after two wild elbows seemed to make contact with their opposition.
Mamadou Sakho appeared to strike Oswaldo Minda in the face during a French corner just eight minutes in, while Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud jabbed his arm at Gabriel Achilier in an off-the-ball incident late on.
In a tournament so far averaging just under three goals a game, the lack of strikes made for a rather dull anomaly, but after resting a number of players, France should be able to add to their tally of eight in the knock-out stages.
They now face a second-round clash with Nigeria on Monday, despite the African’s 3-2 loss to Argentina earlier in the day.