Ecuador and Senegal will face each other at the Al Rayyan Stadium on Tuesday, with everything to play for in Group A despite hosts Qatar’s early exit.
Ecuador, who play Senegal next, were not among the leading candidates or even the dark horses prior to the tournament. But they have served strong notice that they are a threat to the establishment with an excellent performance against a strong European side in the Netherlands.
They not only more than held their own against a much superior opponent on paper but made life hell for the Oranje with relentless pressing, pace, speed, and trickery. An exciting team packed full of youth and exuberance, Ecuador are emerging as the surprise packages of this tournament.
It would be premature to say that Ecuador could buck the trend set by the powerhouses, go the whole hog, and win the tournament at this point. However, they have shown quality in their opening two matches, which suggests they could yet make a deep run in the tournament. But first, they must qualify for the next round, for which they need to avoid a defeat here against tricky African opponents in Senegal.
As for Aliou Cisse’s Senegal, the instructions are simple and pretty straightforward: barring minnow host nation Qatar, who have already been knocked out of the World Cup, pulling off a massive giant-killing against the Netherlands, Senegal need to win this match to make it to the Round of 16. The 2021 AFCON winners sit third in Group A at the moment with three points from two matches.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 25, 2022
The Lions of Teranga put up a very respectable fight against the Netherlands on the opening matchday. It was a tightly contested encounter that appeared to be heading for a draw until the Africans were undone by two late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen.
Nonetheless, Aliou Cisse managed to draw plently of positives from his team’s performance and motivated them to bounce back in his post-match conference. Senegal respond to their manager and followed it up with a 3-1 victory over Qatar on Friday. However, the scoreline was a flattering one as the game was not as plain sailing as the result might suggest.
Qatar put Senegal under the cosh and pinned them at times and may feel robbed when they did not get a penalty at 0-0, which if converted would have changed the whole complexion of the game and quite possibly the group dynamics. Still, Aliou Cisse’s side were the better side overall and got the job done against Qatar to stay alive in the group. They now have a much more difficult task against an in-form Ecuador side.
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Ecuador are sweating over the fitness of talismanic striker and skipper Enner Valencia, who was carried off on a stretcher late in the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.
However, subsequent media reports have suggested that he will be fit in time to start in Ecuador’s Group A finale against Senegal despite an injury scare last time out. If correct, that will be a huge boost for manager Gustavo Alfaro, who is likely to retain the same playing XI that took to the field against the Netherlands last time out.
La Tri are a well-balanced team, and they showed they are comfortable in possession in the 1-1 draw with the Netherlands. However, their main threat comes from marauding wing-backs Eduar Ayrton Preciado and Pervis Estupinan, with the latter frequently acting as a crossing wide-man who also skirts around the edge of the box, waiting in the wings to use the lethal strike in his left foot.
The Brighton & Hove Albion wing-back is also a threat from set-pieces and is a real handful to deal with for the opposing defender thanks to his gifted turn of pace, and canny skills. His Seagulls’ teammate Moises Caicedo is also very crucial, as he protects the backline alongside Edison Mendez in the midfield double pivot and also initiates a suffocating midfield press.
Ecuador are also capable of defending well and are clearly very organised. In fact, they have faced just seven shots in their two group games so far, with Cody Gakpo’s early goal in their second game being the only one that has been on target.
They not only look defensively strong but have decent quality up front, with highly-rated Gonzalo Plata, a recent target for Newcastle United, starting alongside Valencia as one of the two inside wingers/auxiliary strikers. Michael Estrada will be assigned to the line in a 3-4-2-1 setup. Should Valencia miss out due to a lack of match fitness, another Brighton star, Jeremy Sarmiento, could start in his place.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Galindez; Porozo, Torres, Hincapie; Preciado, Mendez, Caicedo, Estupinan; Plata, Valencia; Estrada
Senegal boss Aliou Cisse has a more or less fully-fit squad to pick from, with no fresh injury concerns heading into their final group A match against Ecuador. Although Senegal scored three goals in their previous match, they struggled to create clear-cut chances against one of the tournament’s lowest-ranked teams.
Qatar are a team severely lacking in quality and, in all honesty, look out of place amongst the elites on the biggest stage. Given the gulf in quality between the two, the Lions of Teranga should have easily crushed them. But that was not the case as they looked to be on the edge at times.
A lack of guile, killer instincts and creativity in the final third remains a real cause for concern for this side, as they are quite clearly missing their talisman, Sadio Mane. Nonetheless, Senegal showed signs of promise in their opening two games and will look to step up their game here in a win-or-go-home scenario.
— Football Senegal (@FootballSenegal) November 27, 2022
Cisse will set his side up in a 4-4-2 formation and is likely to name the same starting XI from the last game. Edouard Mendy kept his No. 1 spot against Qatar despite a calamitous outing in the defeat to the Netherlands.
The 30-year-old, who faces an uncertain future at Chelsea, repaid his manager’s faith in him by producing a big performance in testing circumstances. Mendy came up with huge saves time and time again to keep the Middle East outfit at bay and keep his country’s World Cup hopes alive.
Captain Kalidou Koulibaly will resume his defensive partnership with Amad Diallo at the heart of Senegal’s defence as they try to keep their first clean sheet at the World Cup. Youssouf Sabaly will once again fill in at right-back, while Ismail Jakobs hopes to put in a tireless shift at left-back.
Nampalys Mendy and Idrissa Gana Gueye will form the defensive pivot in the middle of the park, flanked by pacy wide-forwards in Ismaila Sarr and Krepin Diatta, both of whom will be tasked to put their pace to good use and stretch the flanks. Boulaye Dia and Famara Diedhiou will lead the line for the Senegal national team in the final third, with Bamba Dieng as another potent goal-scoring option on the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Mendy; Sabaly, Koulibaly, Diallo, Jakobs; Sarr, Mendy, Gueye, Diatta; Dia, Diedhiou
- Ecuador and Senegal will be meeting for just the third time in their history, with Senegal winning both previous friendly meetings in May 2002 and December 2005.
- Ecuador have never faced an African team at the FIFA World Cup, while Senegal are without a win in their two games against South American opposition.
- Ecuador will qualify for the World Cup knockout rounds for the second time in their history provided they avoid a loss here, having done so in 2006. It would also be the first time they have gone undefeated through the entire group stage.
- Enner Valencia has scored each of Ecuador’s last six goals at the World Cup.
- Senegal claimed a 3-1 victory against Qatar in their last World Cup outing and are looking for back-to-back wins in the competition for the first time.
Player to Watch
Ecuador’s 33-year-old captain has had a somewhat of a journeyman footballing career. He had disappointing spells in the Premier League with West Ham United and Everton before moving on to Tigres in Mecxico. And Valencia is now plying his trade for Turkish outfit Fenerbahce.
The poetic angle about his career is that he shines ever-brightly on the biggest stage. Valencia shot to fame after scoring three goals at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. And he is now back in his element in this year’s edition.
Valencia is the Turkish Super Lig’s leading striker this season, with 13 goals in 12 games, and he has carried over that form into the World Cup to Ecuador’s benefit. Ecuador’s all-time leading goal scorer made it three goals from two games with the equaliser four minutes after the break against the Netherlands, tapping in from close range.
A poacher, workhorse, and leader, Valencia is not only spearheading his team’s attack for his team but a whole nation’s dream.
Ecuador 1-1 Senegal
Knowing that a draw is sufficient to achieve your target can sometimes work against a side. Coming out with the aim of securing a point is a risky plan, especially in this year’s World Cup, which is full of surprises. However, it might be difficult to match the amount of urgency displayed by a Senegal team in a do-or-die situation.
This should be a tight, tense, and competitive game of football as both teams possess similar strengths and styles of play. Both Ecuador and Senegal pride themselves on being rock-solid at the back, giving nothing away, and economical on the other end of the pitch, especially on transitions.
Both also have similar attacking routes via a quick burst down the flanks and excel when there is space in front of them to counterattack. Expect Ecuador and Senegal to come into this game with a defensive mindset. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle predicts them to cancel each other out in a 1-1 draw, which will see La Tri go through to the next round.