The French have all but guaranteed themselves a spot in the Round of 16 with two strong performances in their first two group games, including a 5-2 romp over Switzerland. Didier Deschamps’ squad has done away with any memories of the scandalous 2010 World Cup, which the French left having not won a single game. If France can maintain their form and continue producing lots of goals, they look set to continue the trend of making deep runs in alternating World Cups (The French were champions in 1998 and runners-up in 2006; they didn’t make it out of the group stage in either 2002 or 2010). Here are two keys to remember for their last group game against Ecuador.
The winner of Group E, likely France if they hold on, will meet the second place team from Group F, and vice-versa. If France want the best chance at advancing deep into the tournament, they should hope to finish first in their group to prevent a Round of 16 matchup with Argentina and the best player in the world, Lionel Messi. France only need a win or a draw to ensure a match with either Nigeria or Iran, a much more palatable opponent.
The only way France could conceivably finish second in their group is by losing tomorrow to Ecuador and having a worse goal differential than either Ecuador or Switzerland. France, sitting at +6, would have to lose to Ecuador by three and give up at least five goals if they were to lose the tiebreakers. They can also conceivably lose to Ecuador by less than three, and still finish second to Switzerland if they can manage to make up the goal difference. The Swiss stand at minus two, so that situation looks unlikely as well. If the French maintain their composure throughout the match, they should have no problem advancing as the first place finisher in Group E.
Be Weary of a Sleepy Ecuadorian Attack
Ecuador come into this game desperately in need of a win to advance into the Round of 16 themselves. They’re tied with Switzerland with three points and have an even goal differential. With the Swiss pressing for a win against lowly Honduras, however, Ecuador will need to go all out to get the three points as well.
Though Antonio Valencia has played rather poorly considering his star status for the national team, it has been a different Valencia who has stepped up in his absence. Enner, of no relation to the Manchester United man, has scored all three of his team’s goals. Antonio and fellow outside midfielder Jefferson Montero have looked dangerous at times this tournament, and could trouble France’s fullbacks along the flanks. If manager Reinaldo Rueda can coax a good performance out of inconsistent but potent forward Felipe Caicedo, this foursome could sneak a few by Lloris and make things interesting for France.