Ecuador 2 Honduras 1
Many may have feared the worst about this battle of the Group E outsiders but in the end there was a lot to enjoy. Especially for Ecuador, who came from a goal down to gain the three points and keep their slim hopes of progress alive.
France await in the third game, which is not a tantalising prospect when your defence looks less than secure, but Ecuador will be heartened by a decent overall performance and two goals by Enner Valencia, whose scintillating form leaves him on three for the tournament and will make him a minor star.
Although Honduras are not technically out of the competition, you cannot foresee the results that would allow their game but limited band of players to progress.
The vagaries of Fifa’s geographical carve-up may house these two teams in different confederations, but this game had not only the makings of a local derby, it had the characteristics of it too. Frantic, direct and slightly wild, it played out with an intensity that spoke not only of a desperate desire for victory – both sides had lost their first game – but of an ache for bragging rights in this first ever competitive fixture between the sides. Never pretty, never dull.
Honduras have been building a reputation for their physicality, boosted by Wilson Palacios's sending-off in the defeat against France, and this game had its moments; at one point strapping centre back Maynor Figueroa went through Jefferson Montero like a railroad car through a crossing. But the strength on show was rarely misdirected.
It was thrillingly expressed just before half-time, when giant San Jose Earthquakes defender Victor Bernandez lined up a free-kick from 25 yards with a run-up of such length and severity that the knees in Ecuador's wall must have been knocking. The shot was thunderous, pushed away well by Alexander Dominguez in goal.
It helped the spectacle that both defences were vulnerable. Ecuador were more refined, with a more athletic and dangerous front pairing and for a long time Honduras just looked competitive but primitive.
The men in yellow drove them back, forcing a series of corners on the right, and Enner Valencia and Felipe Caicedo rattled them at the back. After 19 minutes a long ball caught out Honduras centre back Emilio Izaguirre and Valencia ran in behind but chipped the ball just wide of the post. It was a fantastic chance.
At that stage Honduras looked weak, but they stormed into the match about half an hour in. When Bernardez, unmarked, sent a slow-motion diving header wide from a Boniek Garcia corner you could see the regret on his face, and you feared the worst for his conscience; yet within three minutes Honduras went ahead.
A long ball from the back fell towards former Birmingham striker Carlo Costly, who was marked by Jorge Guagua, but the centre back made a hash of his header, rebounding it weakly off Costly and back into the striker's path. The finish was hard and emphatic into the bottom corner, and Honduras celebrated like they hadn't scored a World Cup goal since 1982 against Northern Ireland – which indeed was the case.
The great news for little Honduras didn’t last long. Within a couple of minutes Caicedo had sent a ball flying through the box that travelled all the way to the back post with the help of a slight deflection. Enner Valencia was there to stab it home sharply. It made it seven goals in six international appearances for the striker, who plays for Mexican club CH Pachuca.
We had a game on our hands. The second half continued in the same vein, only Honduras often gave as good as they got – and better, if we’re talking long balls. But Ecuador always had the bigger threats up front, and they should have had a penalty when Caicedo was tripped 10 minutes into the second half in a Figueroa tackle that just failed to touch the ball.
Honduras' attempts were more long-range – Jorge Claros sending a scorching shot wide, for instance – and occasionally from set-pieces, and they had second goal correctly disallowed for offside.
In the stadium the volume rose. Ecuador's canary-coloured supporters got to their feet and sang a loud, joyful song. Their men responded. On 65 minutes Walter Ayovi sent in a delicious free-kick from the left near the touchline, and Enner Valencia jumped to slice a wonderful header into the bottom corner. A moment of real quality that Honduras seemed unable to match.
It finished fast and furious, and Ecuador looked likelier to score. They thought they had done so at the death after good work from skipper Antonio Valencia, only for the Manchester United winger to be penalised for handball. No trouble – two goals was plenty.
ECUADOR: 22 Alexander Dominguez; 4 Juan Carlos Paredes, 2 Jorge Guagua, 3 Frickson Erazo, 10 Walter Ayovi; 6 Christian Noboa, 14 Oswalso Minda (23 Carlos Gruezo, 83 mins); 16 Antonio Valencia, 11 Felipe Caicedo (8 Edison Mendez, 82 mins), 13 Enner Valencia, 7 Jefferson Montero (21 Gabriel Achilier, 90 + 2 mins). Yellow cards: A Valencia, E Valencia J ontero.
HONDURAS: 18 Noel Valladares; 21 Brayan Beckeles, 5 Victor Bernardez, 3 Maynor Figueroa, 7 Emilio Izaguirre (6 Juan Carlos Garcia, half-time); 14 Oscar Garcia (23 Marvin Chavez, ), 19 Luis Garrido (10 Mario Martinez, 71 mins), 20 Jorge Claros, 15 Roger Espinoza; 11 Jerry Bengtson, 13 Carlo Costly. Yellow cards: Bernardez, Bengston.