Enner Valencia strikes again to earn Ecuador draw with Netherlands

<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ecuador were far happier with this draw because after conceding early Gustavo Alfaro’s team played front-foot football that went close to administering a fatal blow to the Netherlands.

They did not but the result means that Qatar are eliminated from their own World Cup and become the first nation out at the group stage, while Ecuador and the Netherlands each have four points and Senegal three. As Louis van Gaal’s side face the pointless hosts in their final match, the meeting of Ecuador and Senegal appears a straight shootout to see who progresses to the last 16. Ecuador are favourites given that they require a draw and after seriously rattling Dutch confidence they should surge. Particularly impressive was how they responded to Cody Gakpo’s opener, turning in a display of muscular attacking and pressing that sucked energy and composure from their opponents.

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Enner Valencia, their star man, registered a third goal of the tournament and although he was carried off near the end, Alfaro suggested the forward should be fine. “He’s going through such a good spell and I am so happy for him,” the Argentinian said. “I think his injury is OK. Sometimes you deserve to win but, for whatever reason, you don’t get the result. Since their coach took his position, they were unbeaten in 17 games, they had a great qualifying campaign in Europe and we were facing such a good team.”

Van Gaal concurred with this analysis. “Ecuador could’ve won,” he said. “I was satisfied with the 1-1 but not with the game. The duels were all for Ecuador and when that happens you cannot win.”

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On Thursday Van Gaal had stated that Gakpo could be a breakout star of the tournament and the PSV player needed only five minutes to show why. Steven Bergwijn, his strike partner, lost Nathan Aké’s pass but the ball arrived at Davy Klaassen’s feet via Moisés Caicedo’s loose distribution, and after the No 10 fashioned a cute backheel Gakpo took over, skilfully curling a 20-yard left-foot finish past Hernán Galíndez.

That made it two in two games for Gakpo, and Frenkie de Jong and Teun Koopmeiners in the engine room had Van Gaal’s men purring forward at their desired pace, which was a touch above a stroll.

A Gonzalo Plata dart down the right signalled Ecuador intention to disrupt this. In a flurry of action his cross came to Caicedo, whose shot was blocked before, seconds later, the Brighton man cut in from the left and fired the ball in, Virgil van Dijk having to clear. From the throw-in Pervis Estupiñán was fed and, once more, Van Dijk was in rescue mode, heading the wing-back’s delivery away.

Ecuador were enjoying themselves down their left and when Valencia cut inside and let fly Andries Noppert’s save low to his right had to be sharp.

Out of possession Ecuador were accomplished too, harrying De Jong, Koopmeiners and Bergwijn to eventually spill the ball. They nearly drew level when, with a swish, Jackson Porozo, one of Alfaro’s three centre-backs, moved forward and bounced the ball into the marauding Ángelo Preciado, who failed to capitalise.

Cody Gakpo gives the Netherlands the lead.
Cody Gakpo gives the Netherlands the lead. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Just before the break Estupiñán saw his deflected finish ruled out because Porozo was offside: he was, yet Noppert had already dived right, the opposite direction to where he was beaten.

For the second half Van Gaal gave Memphis Depay the 45 minutes he had promised, Bergwijn being replaced, but Depay had scant impact.

Ecuador struck when Estupiñán skated into space and blazed at Noppert’s goal; the goalkeeper palmed out and Valencia could not miss. The goal had derived from a catalogue of errors that featured a poor Noppert clearance, an even poorer Daley Blind header, De Jong being involved in a midfield mix-up, and Ecuador taking advantage for the captain’s sixth goal in five World Cup outings.

The Netherlands were close to disarray, any type of attacking patterns a distant memory, so when Depay surged through the centre and claimed a free-kick it felt a small shock, though nothing came from the set piece.

Plata was far more convincing when crashing a shot off Noppert’s crossbar and it seemed only one team might win. Ecuador had reduced Netherlands to a raggedness that surely infuriated Van Gaal, a coach who drills his charges to operate in defined zones and pass and move with trigonometric precision.

Until the whistle Ecuador were a menace, often scattering their opponents by pinging the ball about masterfully, though now came the injury to Valencia that forced him off. But his team held on for a point that could go a long way to helping them reach the knockout stage – and if the captain is fit to participate this will provide a further fillip.