Ecuador’s youth team is close to matching its best performance at a World Cup and needs to take at least one point in Tuesday’s Group A clash with Senegal to reach the knockout stages of the competition for the second time in its history.
The South Americans, who will clash with the African champions at Khalifa International Stadium, got off to a great start to the World Cup, beating host Qatar 2-0 before drawing a valuable 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, the clear favourites to win the group.
But Argentina coach Gustavo Alfaro’s side can’t relax, as a loss to Senegal would send them home instead of the knockout stages.
“A tougher battle awaits us,” Alfaro said after the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.
So far, Ecuador has relied heavily on striker Enner Valencia on attack, who has scored all of the team’s goals so far and has six in World Cups after three in Brazil 2014.
But Valencia is only the spearhead, since behind him there are many talents, among which the midfielder Moisés Caicedo, 21, a vital piece for Ecuador protecting its defense and combining with the strikers.
Once again, Ecuador awaits news of Valencia’s fitness after he left on a stretcher near the close of the match against the Netherlands due to the reappearance of a knee strain suffered against Qatar.
Senegal are a less intimidating opponent without the injured Sadio Mane and know they have to improve to beat Ecuador, after losing 2-0 to the Netherlands in the opener but bounce back by beating Qatar 3-1 to finish third in the group with three points.
“Our concentration must be better,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. “We need to win to have a chance to qualify for the knockout stages.”
Senegal, one of only three African nations to reach the quarterfinals of a World Cup in history, knows that a victory over Ecuador would help them recover from their elimination in the opening phase in Russia 2018.
In theory, Senegal could pass if they draw, as could Ecuador if they lose, but both scenarios would require a Qatar victory over the Netherlands large enough to displace the Dutch to third place on goal difference, a scenario that seems impossible.