“Yes, we can,” they sang and Ecuador could. They emerged battered and bruised but not beaten from a breathless battle in Curitiba. A cruel 93rd-minute goal had condemned Ecuador to an opening-match defeat against Switzerland and they fell behind here too. But two goals from Enner Valencia meant they still have hopes of progressing. And at the full-time whistle there was a huge roar and embraces on the touchline.
Ecuador, like Switzerland, have three points but they lead their European opponents on goal difference. The problem is that they face the leaders, France, while Switzerland take on Honduras, who lie bottom. Yet that will not be simple for the French; Honduras put up a fight here.
The first goal was scored by Carlos Costly, a man who spent the evening wearing a dark look and chewing a straw, as if to say: “Are you looking at me?” It was that kind of game and Honduras are that kind of opponent. Yet Honduras could still qualify, should they win the final game by a significant margin, and Ecuador know from this experience that Switzerland will not find it easy.
Honduras took the lead just after the half-hour. The ‘assist’ was no more than a punt but the finish was superb. The ball travelled 50 yards, plummeting between Costly and Jorge Guagua. It was the Ecuador defender who reached it but his header rebounded off the striker and, suddenly, Costly was through. He took one touch and then, from the edge of the penalty area, took the shot on the bounce sending the ball screeching into the bottom corner.
It was the first World Cup goal Honduras had scored since they faced Northern Ireland, 32 years ago on Saturday. It was also a goal that summed up this game: quick, direct and hit very, very hard. There was something almost slapstick about this clash, and ‘clash’ is the word.
At times this was Fight Club made football. The first foul was committed after barely five seconds and the first yellow card followed five minutes later. There would be no retreat. Jefferson Montero flew into the air, sent there by Maynor Figueroa, and all over the pitch players flew into tackles.
Chances fell too and while there may have been little fineness, it was certainly fun. The ball whizzed back and forth. At one end, Enner Valencia controlled a long ball on his chest but shot over. At the other, Víctor Bernárdez sent a free header wide. And when Costly gave Honduras the lead, Ecuador equalised three minutes later. Enner Valencia, scoring in his sixth consecutive game, reached Juan Carlos Paredes’s deflected shot to nudge in at the far post.
Honduras thought they had retaken the lead just before the break when Costly headed against the post and Jerry Bengtson pushed it the last couple of inches over the line. The referee, Benjamin Williams, said that he had done so with his arm. And so it was time for them to retreat momentarily to their respective corners.
Round Two began with much the same pattern; Ecuador sought to play a little more, looking wide for creation, but between them they had struck 100 long balls before the game reached the hour mark.
Bengtson drew a sharp save at the near post for Honduras before Costly’s ‘goal’ was ruled out for a clear offside. For Ecuador, Felipe Caicedo stumbled in the area, the slight trip drawing surprisingly few appeals, and then in the 65th minute Enner Valencia scored again.
He leapt to head in Walter Ayoví’s superb free-kick from the left and this stadium, occupied predominantly by Ecuador fans, erupted. There were nerves still, a disallowed third and confrontations too. It had been some fight but they are still standing.