Enner Valencia seizes limelight for combative Ecuador
Goal-scoring dynamo stars in 2-1 win over Honduras to keep hopes of qualification alive
It was a tale of two Valencias as Ecuador beat Honduras 2-1 in the World Cup on Friday.
Striker Enner Valencia seized the limelight with both goals against Honduras in World Cup group E and left better known teammate and captain Antonio Valencia in the shade.
While Enner stood out as man of the match, Manchester United’s flying winger Antonio – no relation – picked up a booking but made little impact on the game.
France top group E with six points and a healthy goal difference while Ecuador and Switzerland each have three points. Honduras have lost twice and are facing likely elimination.
Coach Reinaldo Rueda, who had switched Antonio to a more central role, was asked point blank what was wrong with Ecuador’s most famous player.
The Colombian coach pointed to the English Premier League and Honduras defender Maynor Figueroa, who now plays for Hull City but was previously with Valencia at Wigan Athletic, among other British-based Honduran players who know his captain well.
Roger Espinoza, in the Honduras midfield, also plays at Wigan as does Juan Carlos Garcia, a second-half substitute, while fullback Emilio Izaguirre is with Scottish champions Celtic. Such players are familiar with Antonio’s style.
“It was a difficult triangle for Antonio,” said Rueda. “They were very combative. And this year he [Antonio] has had difficulties with United. He didn’t play the last month of the season for various reasons, including the crisis at the club [who sacked their manager] and this all affects your performance.”
WATCH: Enner Valencia scores the winner for Ecuador
Enner, who plays for Pachuca in Mexico, had none of those problems.
The forward has now scored three goals in the tournament after being a comparatively late addition following the sudden death last July of regular striker Christian Benitez due to a heart attack.
While his first goal was a classic poacher’s effort at the near post in a physical game of lunging tackles and high balls, the second was a repeat of the one against Switzerland in their opening 2-1 defeat.
The ball was curled in from a free kick by his veteran Pachuca teammate Walter Ayovi for Enner to rise and head home and he admitted they had practised the move on many occasions.
“We play together and know each other very well,” grinned the forward, who might have had a hat-trick but for an injury-time effort being disallowed.
“They were definitely the most important goals of my career. To score goals in a World Cup is something you dream of as a boy.”
WATCH: Carlo Costly opens the scoring
Rueda, who previously coached Honduras, said the 25-year-old’s goals had made the difference between two well-matched sides meeting in a competitive fixture for the first time after 13 friendlies.
“For all of Ecuador the arrival of Enner in the national team last year has been really important,” he said.
"He’s hardly been in the team 10 months, not yet a year with us, and he’s grown a lot,” Rueda said.
WATCH: Enner Valencia equalises
His fellow Colombian, Luis Fernando Suarez, is now coaching Honduras, having taken Ecuador to the second round of the tournament in 2006, their best performance.
Suarez said that Honduras would keep fighting for survival in their final group game against Switzerland in the heat of Manaus on Wednesday.
“If we are eliminated, we will leave after giving everything,” he said.
The coach took no solace from Carlo Costly’s goal which ensured that Honduras just avoided breaking Bolivia’s unwanted record run of 517 minutes without a World Cup goal.
“The first goal in 32 years? It’s not worth talking about,” Suarez said. “We lost and that’s the only thing that matters.”
Defeat follows a 3-0 loss to France in their opener.
Ecuador now face the rampant French in their last group game. “The France game is going to be very difficult. We have to focus on our game and hope we get a positive result,” said Rueda.