Combative Honduras indicate no change in tactics for Ecuador tie
Both sides and managements are familiar with each other but no quarter is likely to be given
France’s Karim Benzema (left) fights for the ball with Osman Chavez (centre) and Maynor Figueroa of Honduras during their fractious Group E encounter at the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters
In Group E where the French and Swiss already have three points they know a defeat will condemn the loser to almost certain elimination.
Worryingly for Ecuador given their opponents reputation as roughhouse brawlers, the Hondurans have already labelled the clash a “game of death”. Lacking individual quality in a squad where Premier League journeymen Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa are the stars they rely on a ferocious team spirit that has allowed the country to qualify for consecutive World Cups for the first time in its history.
Speaking ahead of the game the Honduran coach Luis Fernando Suárez said there would be no change in his side’s approach from the French game despite his players being widely condemned for their violent play, including by his French opposite number Didier Deschamps.
“We cannot give up or even think of changing our style and our way of playing because of certain criticisms made against us,” he said. “Our team has intensity and attitude. We have the desire not to lose a single ball.”
That promises another bruising encounter but off the field there will be many friendly reunions taking place at the Baixada stadium.
Colombian-born Suárez knows several of the Ecuadorean squad well having managed them at the 2006 World Cup when he guided his charges out of a group that contained Germany in what was the country’s best showing at the tournament.
His opposite number, fellow Colombian and good friend Reinaldo Rueda, has also previously managed his rivals. He led the Bicolor to the World Cup in South Africa with 10 players from that squad now in Brazil. So grateful was Honduras for that achievement it made Rueda a citizen and in the build-up to the game several of the team have expressed their enduring admiration for him.
However, that is unlikely to mean any diminution in the commitment of the Central American side though a change from its poorly executed plan of containing France is likely. The need for points against less illustrious opponents should see them attempt to adopt a more adventurous approach though it is not at all clear how they can embellish a rather crude game plan with the resources available.
In South Africa four years ago their commitment kept defeats against sides as capable as Chile and Spain respectable and produced a point from a goalless draw against the Swiss who they face in Manaus next Wednesday. But it still left them bottom of the group where they find themselves again after the 3-0 defeat against the French.
Any realistic hope of remaining alive in the tournament means a victory is imperative, but that will require Honduras to score a first goal at a World Cup since Eduardo Antonio Laing netted against Northern Ireland in Spain 32 years ago tomorrow.
Suárez is likely to make only one change from the French game, forced on him by the expulsion of Wilson Palacios, with MLS player Óscar Boniek García replacing him. Named after the Polish legend, he has a reputation as a more creative player than Palacios which could help a lightweight attack where the best player is young Anderlecht squad member Andy Najar.
For Ecuador the game is a chance to put behind it the disappointment of the clash with Switzerland when a last-gasp chance of victory cruelly turned to defeat.
“We have to forget what happened in order to get the three points,” said goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez.
“Everything still depends on us and we are going to work for this result.”
Despite having the stronger squad, whose undisputed leader is Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, Rueda has said he would take a draw against Honduras. A point would be enough to go into their final game still alive but it would leave them needing to beat group favourites France.
Such limited ambitions raise the question of whether Ecuador, until the millennium a perennial South American also ran, is ready to attack teams with more vigour when playing away from the home comforts of high altitude in Quito.
Much now depends on Valencia following the tragic death last year at just 27 of the side’s most potent striker, Christian Benítez.
Though nominally playing wide with the national team Valencia has a slightly freer role than at his club and will look to find his young namesake Enner Valencia, the zippy striker who has scored in each of his last five appearances.
History suggests a draw today is the most likely outcome, the result in eight of the sides’s 13 meetings. But in a World Cup disdaining deadlock such an outcome will provide little hope of progress for either country.