Ecuador’s “Superman” captain Enner Valencia led a spirited comeback as the South Americans drew 1-1 with the Netherlands in Group A on Friday, keeping both teams in contention for the last 16 while eliminating hosts Qatar’s chances.
Valencia, 33, scored his third goal of the tournament from a rebound in the second half after Cody Gakpo put the Dutch ahead with a sizzling shot in the sixth minute, advancing both teams to four points.
Qatar were eliminated from their debut World Cup after losing their second game in a row to Senegal earlier on Friday. The African champions are third in the group, with Ecuador coming up in the final group games on Tuesday.
Ecuador had a quiet first half, with Louis van Gaal’s side appearing relaxed but unhurried. The South Americans, cheered on by a large yellow-clad contingent at the Khalifa International Stadium, stepped up a gear in the second half and could have won it when Gonzalo Plata’s strike hit the crossbar.
Plato thrashed a powerful shot off the crossbar in the 59th minute as the South Americans went from strength to strength, consistently hustling the Dutch off the ball with a physically demanding press that prevented their opponents from playing their usual flowing game.
“They had a few biters, guys who are hot on your heels. Then you have to act quickly, and (we) could have dealt with that better. We should have done better in possession of the ball,” said Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutch were looking for their second win of the tournament, which would have ensured they were the first team to qualify for the knockout stages, when Gakpo scored.
Moises Caicedo’s stray ball back to his defence was stolen by Davy Klaassen, who then allowed Gakpo to take over possession and slam a left-footed rocket into the net.
But that was the best it got for Louis van Gaal’s team. Valencia’s clever pass in the 24th minute sent Caicedo away down the left, and while his touch was heavy, allowing the Dutch to intercept, it elicited a burst of noise from their large number of fans, infusing energy into the Ecuador players.
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