Didier Deschamps defends changes as toothless France fail to break down 10-man Ecuador
Les Bleus will face Nigeria in last 16; draw not enough to take Ecuador through
France’s much-vaunted attack missed a series of chances as they drew 0-0 with 10-man Ecuador to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup on Wednesday, while the South Americans bowed out of the tournament.
France, who topped Group E with seven points, had scored eight goals in two games and 39 in their previous 11. But the finishing on Wednesday lacked sharpness against a spirited Ecuador side which threatened all game on the break.
“I’m proud of what the players have achieved,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “We didn’t take our chances, but that takes nothing away from our joy. We had to be vigilant against an Ecuador side that was quick and looked dangerous even with 10 men.”
A win would have given France three group-stage wins for the first time since 1998 – the year Les Bleus won the tournament on home soil. That looked odds-on after a 3-0 win against Honduras and a 5-2 rout of Switzerland.
“Some people thought we were the kings of the world,” Deschamps said. “But all matches are difficult. Argentina had a difficult match against Nigeria (winning 3-2). These are high intensity matches and it’s difficult to qualify.”
France face Nigeria in the last 16 on Monday.
“It’s a huge satisfaction to finish top, but it’s not over,” Deschamps said. “Nigeria is a solid and quick team, so it will be a very hard match.”
Striker Karim Benzema did well again in his link-up play but should have added to his three goals so far.
“We did well in front of goal in previous games. We had chances but their goalkeeper made some good saves,” Benzema said. “I hope we put them away against Nigeria.”
Ecuador’s chances, meanwhile, were hindered at Rio’s Maracana stadium after Antonio Valencia was shown a straight red card in the 50th minute for raking his studs down the leg of left back Lucas Digne.
But Ecuador may feel upset that France’s Mamadou Sakho was not shown a red card in the eighth minute when he appeared to elbow Oswaldo Minda in the face during a France corner.
“It’s true that I’m a tough player but I respect my opponents,” Sakho said.
Then, in a late incident off the ball, France forward Olivier Giroud jabbed his elbow in to Gabriel Achilier, who was standing behind him.
“Some of the decisions made by the referee did not favour us,” Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “It’s quite regrettable what happened. I believe this is now in the hands of the committee that assesses the behaviour of referees. This was not the ideal behaviour in many split decisions. I don’t think it’s worth going into that now.”
Deschamps says he “did not see” the incident with Sakho because the “coach’s bench is a bit low.”
Knowing his side was all but assured of advancing, Deschamps made six changes to his starting lineup, but it upset the balance and his new-look defence looked shaky, although the forwards still combined well.
France came closest to scoring when Antoine Griezmann hit the post in the 47th but the goals did not come, despite the hype generated after the Switzerland match.
An inspired Ecuador went close in the 82nd minute when substitute midfielder Alex Ibarra broke down the right, cut inside Raphael Varane, and saw his powerful strike beaten away by Hugo Lloris.
“It is very tough to play for almost half the match against such a great team, and be a man short,” Ecuador forward Enner Valencia said. “But we almost won.”