After Carlo Costly provided Honduras with pure elation, Ecuador forward Enner Valencia single handedly silenced hopes of an upset in Friday’s match at Arena Da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil.
After 32 years and 510 World Cup minutes of play, Costly gave Honduras its first goal in the tournament since 1982 in Spain in the 31st minute, but Valencia’s equalizer in the 34th and winner in the 65th moved Ecuador into second place in Group E and put Los Catrachos on the brink of elimination.
France’s dominating 5-2 victory over Switzerland earlier in the day all but locked up first place in the group, and it created an opportunity for Honduras and Ecuador to overtake the Swiss on goal differential.
La Tri next faces France in the final group play match, and with a victory seeming like a daunting task, they’ll need at least a draw and for Honduras to contain Switzerland as well.
Costly, 31, lifted Honduras’s collective heart first with outstanding defensive pressure and then his striking ability.
Ecuador defender Jorge Guagua missed a header clearance at midfield and Costly took advantage and charged ahead alone to the goal for a left-footed strike in the 31st minute. Many hoped Costly would be the one to end Honduras’s scoring plight, but at times he was too aggressive, and only a minute before his goal was called for a handball.
Valencia, who led Liga MX’s Pachuca with 18 goals, would then take over.
Valencia first expertly deflected Juan Carlos Paredes‘s shot in front of the goal to squelch any chance of Honduras maintaining a lead or capturing its first World Cup victory. It was the second goal in two games for Valencia, following his score against Switzerland in the opener.
He then moved Ecuador into position for its second all-time trip to the Round of 16 with a close range header following defender Walter Ayovi’s cross off a set piece. This is Ecuador’s third time in the World Cup, counting their 12th place finish in 2006 in Germany and 2002’s group stage elimination in South Korea.
The two sides were relatively equal in shots on goal, with five for Honduras and four for Ecuador. But La Tri overwhelmed Honduras’s midfield and backline to force 12 corner kicks.
Ecuador keeper Alexander Dominguez also came up with four important saves in only his 20th international appearance.
Honduras created far more scoring chances early in the match, and had reason to question the referees as well. Costly jumped to accept a cross from Jerry Bengston inside the penalty area in the 14th minute, but Ecuador defender Paredes barged in to break up the play and Costly protested with his hands in the air.
The play was similar to when Honduran defender Wilson Palacios earned his second yellow card against France that resulted in a penalty and led to a 3-0 loss that put Los Catrachos in a desperate situation against Ecuador.
With Palcios already out, Honduras couldn’t risk losing another defender even with a very outside chance of advancing to the knockout stage, and it resulted in more deep runs for Ecuador.
Honduran defender Victor Bernadez earned the first of five yellow cards in the match in the 7th minute, tripping up Valencia to silence what could have been a promising run.
Valencia later broke free again and was alone in front of Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares, but curved his shot wide left of the net in the 19th minute.