Intense scoreless draw played out in a game of good tempo
With Paraguay’s win over Colombia last week, this group is really shaping up nicely. Today sees the return fixture of the opening tie from only two weeks earlier, when Colombia had, very deservedly, overcome neighbours Ecuador in Barranquilla. However, the Colombians had been tamed in Asunción, even if they had come close to snatching a draw which their play had not really warranted. Still, to lose to a penalty deep in injury time must have hurt. Participating in their third successive fixture in this group, did the Colombians have enough in their locker to return from Guayaquil with at least a point in the bag? Ecuador needed a win in order not to drift out of the picture entirely with two matches still to go. With the assistance of their supporters, they could surely be a good match for the travelling Colombians.
Ecuador team news
After their away defeat to today’s opponents in their opening qualifier, and in the trail of Paraguay’s impressive win last week, Ecuador needed to show their strength on home soil, too, in order to make a fight for it in the group standings.
Their Yugoslav manager Dušan Draškovic had picked the exact same matchday squad as last time around. They had started in a 4-4-2 then, with two wide midfielders who were quite instrumental in their build-up play, as both Hamilton Cuvi and Álex Aguinaga enjoyed coming inside. Ecuador had also played with a fairly square four man defensive line.
Away to Colombia, the Ecuadorians had looked pretty harmless up top. They had gone with the agile, yet toothless, at least for the occasion, Raúl Avilés alongside the much more static Ermen Benítez, while box to box midfielder Julio César Rosero had not been able to lend sufficient support to the attack force.
Following the 2-0 loss in Barranquilla, would the boss be making any changes in his starting eleven for this tie?
Colombia team news
Colombia supremo Francisco Maturana had no other option but to make squad changes ahead of this journey to Guayaquil, their second and final away qualifier. There were enforced absences for both Leonel Álvarez and Bernardo Redín, as the pair of midfielders were suspended. Álvarez had received his marching orders for kicking Jorge Nunes to the ground in Asunción last Sunday, whilst Redín had been booked in the same game. As the latter had also picked up a yellow card in their opening day home win against Ecuador, it meant he was atoning for his accumulated tally of two cautions.
Those two players were the only ones to exit the squad since the previous Sunday, with their replacements being León Villa, who had been the left-back in their opening win against the Ecuadorians, and the attacking Luis Fajardo, who had indeed come on as a substitute in that game, and who had been unfortunate to see a strong header cannon off the crossbar during his lively cameo.
With Maturana clearly favouring something of a 4-2-2-2 formation with this Colombia select, he would need to replace both a defensive and an attacking midfielder if he were to retain the same formation. Or would he even be opting for a different set-up this time around, as they had looked disappointingly second best for most of the game in Paraguay?
45 year old Argentinian Ricardo Calabria had been appointed by FIFA as referee for this fixture. This was his first ever international, at least at senior level, after he’d refereed two matches in the U16 World Cup in Scotland earlier in the year.
Calabria was, however, a Copa Libertadores ‘veteran’ by now, having officiated in six successive tournaments since 1984. His proudest moment had possibly come when he’d been let in charge of the second leg of the 1987 final, overseeing Peñarol’s 2-1 home win against América de Cali (they would need a third meeting on neutral ground in Chile in order to separate the teams, with Peñarol winning 1-0 after extra time on that occasion).
The Argentinian had been appointed on FIFA’s list back in 1983.
This is the 25th meeting between the two neighbouring countries, following hot in the trails of Colombia’s recent 2-0 home qualifying win. 9-7-8 in favour of today’s hosts Ecuador read the overall meetings statistics.
The pair had not met in World Cup qualification since 1973, with neither team winning through to the tournament proper in West Germany ’74 after two 1-1 draws. This was their third pairing in World Cup qualification altogether.
The game took place in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest, rather than up in the high altitude of the country’s capital Quito, where they had staged their two home qualifiers for Mexico ’86. The stadium in use was Barcelona’s recently built arena Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo, named after the club president. Spain’s Barcelona had been invited for the inauguration in December ’87, with the hosts winning the friendly by a goal to nil. The great Pelé had even been invited to the opening, and apparently he’d been truly impressed by the design, even drawing comparison with Rio’s Maracanã.
With construction works only commencing in 1986, the stadium had been built in a very short space of time. Upon completion, the capacity was 55,000. There are some sources which operate with this figure in attendance for this tie, something which can positively be excluded: There are various areas in the ground which are unpopulated. Sources claiming 40,000 are definitely closer to the truth. Only around 1993/1994 would construction works resume, and once completed, the capacity was in excess of 90,000, with the record attendance occuring in 1997, with more than 91,000 present.
|1 Carlos Morales||24||Barcelona|
|2 Jimmy Izquierdo||27||Barcelona|
|3 Hólger Quiñónez||26||Barcelona|
|5 Kléber Fajardo||24||Emelec|
|6 Luis Capurro||28||Emelec|
|8 Álex Aguinaga||21||Deportivo Quito|
|9 Byron Tenório||28′||24||El Nacional|
|10 Hamilton Cuvi (c)||sub 70′||29||Filanbanco|
|14 Raúl Avilés||63′||25||Emelec|
|16 Julio César Rosero||sub 76′||24||El Nacional|
|18 Tulio Quinteros||26||Barcelona|
|15 Enrique Verduga||on 70′||25||Emelec|
|19 Ermen Benítez||on 76′||28||El Nacional|
|x Víctor Mendoza||28||Aucas|
|x Wilson Macías||23||Filanbanco|
|x Pietro Marsetti||24||LDU Quito|
|1 René Higuita||23||Atlético Nacional|
|2 Andrés Escobar||22||Atlético Nacional|
|4 Wilson Pérez||22||Atletico Junior|
|5 Carlos Hoyos||27||Atlético Junior|
|6 José Ricardo Pérez||25||Atlético Nacional|
|8 Gabriel Gómez||29||Independiente Medellín|
|11 Rubén Darío Hernández||sub 86′||24||Millonarios|
|12 Carlos Valderrama (c)||28||Montpellier|
|15 Luis Carlos Perea||25||Atlético Nacional|
|16 Arnoldo Iguarán||32||Millonarios|
|17 Luis Fajardo||82, sub 83′||26||Atlético Nacional|
|7 Albeiro Usuriaga||on 83′||23||Atlético Nacional|
|9 Juan Jairo Galeano||on 86′||27||Atlético Nacional|
|5 León Villa||29||Atlético Nacional|
|13 Wilmer Cabrera||21||Santa Fe|
|19 Eduardo Niño||22||Santa Fe|
Our tape from the game commences in the seconds upon kick-off, and so we’re oblivious to the national anthem performances. However, we’re informed by the English speaking commentator that ‘it’s a less hot day here in South America than usually of late’, which is a strong indication that he’s actually present in the stadium, though there’s not a whole lot during the ensuing minutes which will reveal further local information.
The stand on the opposite side from the camera appears quite well populated, and right before the actual kick-off, those who have turned up perform their replica of ‘the Mexican wave’, and the noise levels are quite high. It is the home side who have been given the task to get the match under way, something which is carried out by their two wide midfielders, and possibly also their two most instrumental players as far as action inside the opposition’s half is concerned, captain Hamilton Cuvi and Álex Aguinaga.
Once under way, we are able to have a look through the two line-ups, and while there has been a couple of changes in the Ecuadorian eleven compared to the one which had taken to the pitch in Colombia two weeks previously, there are three different starters in the visitors’ select in comparison to what we’d seen last week in Paraguay. Two had been necessitated, as we had touched on in our preview.
The initial indications are that Ecuador wish to play a very direct brand of football. Their idea is to play the ball in behind the opposition’s defence, and while they, like last time around, have a ‘little and large’ combination up front, although with a change of personnel through Byron Tenório’s presence rather than that of Ermen Benítez, the emphasis on direct football appears quite evident. At least in these early proceedings.
While Tenório had come into the side as a striker, there had been a change also among their four defenders, where Wilson Macías had been replaced by Tulio Quinteros. One might remember that Macías had failed to contain Arnoldo Iguarán in the air, leading to two headed Colombian goals last time out, and it is a quick conclusion to draw that Quinteros, another member of the local Barcelona team, has come in with a view to handling the lethal Iguarán. He looks an imposing figure, does the 26 year old, who plays alongside his team mate from club level, the opportunistic Hólger Quiñónez.
For the away team, there have been three changes compared to the team which Francisco Maturana had put out in Asunción. The two suspended players had been directly replaced, and so the early impression was that they were still in their version of 4-4-2 (the four-digits combination 4-2-2-2), where two midfielders were holding, and two were given the freedom to attack. Leonel Álvarez, one of their two regular deep midfielders, had been replaced by Gabriel Gómez, an experienced head at 29, and someone whose physical features were not a million miles away from those of the player whom he had come in for. Perhaps did it have to do with hairstyle: Both were curly-haired figures with hair which was trailing just beyond shoulder length.
In addition to Gómez, who had been an unused substitute in both of their two first qualifiers, coming in, their number 10, Bernardo Redín, also had to be succeeded. In his place had come Luis Fajardo, a 26 year old from the continent’s leading club Atlético Nacional of Medellín, who had introduced himself briefly as a substitute in the opposite encounter. While he had less physicality about him than the burly Redín, he seemed a flexible, clever player, who certainly had some strong features in his play, and perhaps most notably in the air.
There had been a third change in the Colombian line-up, with Rubén Darío Hernández coming into the side as a forward. In the process, he became Iguarán’s third attack partner, following in the steps of Albeiro Usuriaga in their opener and Juan Jairo Galeano during the loss in Paraguay. Hernández had come on as a substitute in both their two previous matches, and he had shown that he was very much a left-sided forward, enjoying life wide where he could run in behind the opposition’s full-back. Early indications are that he’s clearly continuing in such a role, resuming the wide forward task which we had seen from Usuriaga last time out against Ecuador, albeit along the opposite flank.
Fine tempo first 15
The opening quarter of an hour goes by rapidly; there’s preciously few stops in play. The pace is good, the intensity likewise. Both teams play with desire, and though there’s hard challenges coming in from both sets of players, there’s no malice, at least not so far.
The hosts give a good early account of themselves, and once again we see how they go direct, looking to hit the ball towards their big striker Tenório at the earliest opportunity. In these early stages, the man who had come on as a substitute in Barranquilla, appears a lot less static in his performance than the man whom he had replaced back then, namely Ermen Benítez. Tenório certainly is a handful in the air, as both Colombian centre-backs will learn.
In this hectic opening period of the game, the visitors also wish to portray themselves as a difficult opponent. They must have been somewhat disappointed with the way they had been second best for large spells the previous weekend, and though it is a couple of prolific players that they’re missing, it doesn’t seem as if the changes have weakened them drastically. In midfield, Gabriel Gómez certainly is a battler, and ahead of him, in the link-up role between midfield and attack, Luis Fajardo is slotting in well, providing plenty of legs and vision alongside Carlos Valderrama. Fajardo plays a big part in releasing Arnoldo Iguarán down the left just shy of seven minutes in, and in turn, the centre-forward feeds his strike partner Rubén Hernández in front of goal with a low, square pass. With goalkeeper Carlos Morales already committed, Hernández only has to tuck the ball into the empty net, though under severe pressure from left-sided defender Luis Capurro, who has tucked in nicely, Hernández fails to aim his finish low enough for his team to take the lead.
Ecuador – a run through the team
Ecuador are set up in their 4-4-2, and while the deeper of the two central defenders in their previous qualifier, Macías, has been replaced on this occasion, the defensive outline appears quite similar. Four from their five most defensive players all stem from the team which usually plays their home games in this stadium: Barcelona of Guayaquil. Between the sticks is 24 year old Carlos Morales, a ‘keeper who seems sound enough for most purposes, but who also has it in him to get a rush of blood to the head, and thus make rash decisions which do not always gain him or his team. A good shot-stopper, it should be said, but perhaps a little suspect when coming off his line.
The odd man out at the back is left-back Capurro, the 28 year old who plays for Emelec, another Guayaquil based team. While he had looked a steady defensive full-back during the loss in Colombia, displaying a tendency to prefer his right foot, he now appears to be under slightly more freedom to venture forward. He’s a composed character, not someone who thrives on particularly high speed or moments of battle, but he goes about his work in a loyal manner. He even shows his level of two-footedness, as he’s clearly well capable of utilising even his left foot to hit a lengthy pass. Capurro certainly helped saving a goal against from Hernández’ early opportunity in the way he tucked inside with the rest of the backline and his goalkeeper all committed.
At right-back is Jimmy Izquierdo of Barcelona. While Capurro is perhaps not a typically thrifty kind of player, Izquierdo has more leniency about him; he seems a tad more casual. He clearly needs to be alert to the dangers of Colombia’s wide forward Hernández, so he must remain back to a greater extent on this occasion than he had done in the opposite fixture, when he had not had a direct opponent facing him. With his fine right foot, though, he’s often around the ball when there’s a free-kick for the hosts, either in a direct shooting position or when a ball’s about to be lofted into the box.
Tasked with looking after Iguarán are centre-backs Tulio Quinteros and Hólger Quiñónez, with the former coming into the side on this occasion. One can see why, as he looks an imposing figure, and probably someone capable of holding his own in the air, where Macías had fallen short in Barranquilla. Quinteros seems to be the deeper of the two, while the gangly Quiñónez loves striding forward in possession. This, in fact, will also be something seen from Quinteros as the game progresses, and perhaps was this another weapon which Draškovic had wanted to secretly introduce for this game. Early doors, there had been no high balls for either to demonstrate their strength in the air.
In midfield, the defensive alibi was once more Kléber Fajardo. A tenacious and highly energetic performer, he was operating in front of his defence, though with the hosts seeing plenty of possession, he would display that he clearly had a level of ability in him regarding his passing game. When there was little pressing from the opposing players, Fajardo would be able to spread right or left, and he would often be quite precise in his 30 yards angled balls. Full of battle, he was also not afraid to get stuck into a challenge, and the 24 year old of Emelec was clearly someone who played a major part in his manager’s tactics.
Ahead of him in central midfield, Fajardo had Julio César Rosero, more a box to box kind of player, although you would not so often see the 24 year old of Quito based club El Nacional in full battle inside his own half. Perhaps was he a player whom one could feel became somewhat surplus to requirements the way Ecuador were set up to play, as the game seemed to pass him by for large spells. He did seem important in chasing the two holding Colombian midfielders, but in possession he was very rarely a telling player for the home side.
The reason why Rosero seemed less important in an attacking idea were the home side’s two alledged wide players. 21 year young starlet Álex Aguinaga, who still belonged to Deportivo Quito, but who had already agreed to sign on for Mexican club Puebla, had played wide left in Colombia, while he would start the game wide to the right on this occasion. This was merely a false dawn, though, as he would switch back to his left hand role from last time out already with about five minutes on the clock. He had fine energy in his play, and was very capable in possession. He also had fine vision, and indeed the ability to thread a pass to a more advancedly positioned team mate.
While Aguinaga was a vital player already at his young age, one felt that the other original wide player, captain Hamilton Cuvi, was their primary playmaker. With Aguinaga starting towards the right, Cuvi’s original position had been to the left this time around, though he would rarely stick to either wide position, even after Aguinaga’s early, and permanent, switch. Cuvi enjoyed, and more so than two weeks earlier, life through the centre of the pitch, where he saw a lot of the ball, combining well at times with both Fajardo and Aguinaga. He was also a decent player in the air, and he’d introduced him as a threat such just shy of the five minute mark, when he’d arrived on the edge of the 18 yard box and headed Izquierdo’s free-kick from a deep right-sided position a yard or so over the target.
Byron Tenório had come into the side at Benítez’ expense, and it seemed to make sense the way he was putting himself about as soon as he got the chance, and especially when airborn balls kept coming towards the final third of the pitch. He was up against two very strong central defenders, but he acquitted himself with decorum, clearly used as a means to intimidate the opposition and hold the ball up for team mates.
His strike partner was once again the domestic leading scorer Raúl Avilés, the 25 year old of Emelec. He enjoyed working off a more physical partner, thriving on knock-ons and running into space, and true to the knack of a typical goalscorer, Avilés also had the ability to appear in the right place at the right time. He had pace and energy about him, and while Tenório would often get the defenders’ attention due to his size, Avilés could sometimes escape the radar. Looking to exploit any space behind the defence, he had burst into the area early on, and shown his tendency to look for goal himself rather than play a team mate in. He had been a yard or so offside from Fajardo’s pass on that occasion, and before the referee had sounded his whistle, he’d tried to finish himself instead of playing Cuvi in on an open goal.
With the game steadily progressing beyond the 25 minute mark, the flow is still sound, though intensity levels might have dropped somewhat. Colombia are retracting within their own half of the pitch, happy to let the hosts direct proceedings, as their ambition appears to be catching Ecuador out on counters. The visitors certainly have players in their side capable of performing swift transitions, and especially the inclusion of Hernández along the left flank appears spot on. He is proving a thorn in the hosts’ side, and he needs constant monitoring.
In terms of opportunities in front of either goal, there’s not a lot happening yet. However, this is easily excused the way the game is going. There is a whole lot of tension and excitement, and one has to give Ecuador plenty of credit for standing up to a team the quality of Colombia. They play with a lot of heart, and another direct ball in the forward direction sees the bustling Tenório arrive at a shooting opportunity with his left foot inside the area on 18 minutes. He’d managed to escape the attention of Perea, though his low, diagonal effort appeared to be tipped wide by the goalkeeper. The referee would just award a goal kick, though.
When Colombia have been awarded a free-kick about five yards from the edge of the centre-circle inside the hosts’ half of the pitch, after a Fajardo trip on Valderrama, there’s a surprise shot from all of 40 yards by Ricardo Pérez, whose right foot effort is a superb one, demanding a qualified save from Morales despite the massive distance. Aimed towards the left sided angle of the post and the crossbar, the Ecuadorian custodian manages to get a few fingers to the ball to divert it off the bar and over. It would’ve been some goal had he not got there.
Maturana had not diverted from his two previous tactical set-ups, once again shaping his starting eleven in something akin to a 4-2-2-2 formation. Between the sticks, and despite what had happened in Asunción last Sunday, René Higuita had once again been given the nod. Occasionally from a 23 year old goalkeeper you’ll get a mistake, though Higuita surely seemed like a character who would lay any such behind him quickly. He’d conceded the injury time penalty leading to their 2-1 loss, though on this occasion he played like nothing had happened. One knew what he was about by now, and it was even interesting to see him twice within the space of a minute midway through the first half coming to punch crosses from his left despite plenty of traffic in the area. He had punched well.
While the two full-backs were both from Atlético Junior of Barranquilla, the centre-backs were team mates with the country’s leading club Atlético Nacional. While León Villa was back in the squad, Carlos Hoyos, 27, continued in his left-back role. The former had surely given a sounder interpretation when he’d appeared in their opening win against Ecuador, though Hoyos’ capability when coming forward had seemed somewhat stronger. His ability to swing a cross into the area also looked superior to Villa’s. Defensively, though, one might have thought Villa to be a better alternative, yet Maturana had opted for Hoyos again.
Right-back Wilson Pérez had been instrumental in their home win against today’s opponent, though he had far from impressed as much during last week’s defeat. Again here, he was less prone to coming forward, focusing his play on defensive stability, and depriving him of this dimension in his play did seem to make him slightly more uncomfortable. He was a very resolute player, and did after all seem to relish the battles with the nippy Aguinaga.
In the centre, Andrés Escobar continued to sweep, though he was still working according to relatively square defensive instructions, as the visitors were sitting deeper with the progress of the first half. Aerially strong, Escobar would not be shy of entering challenges with the imposing Tenório, and at 22, he certainly looked an exciting prospect. His ability in advancing ball in feet was rarely seen on this occasion, and this was surely down to tactical assessments. As for his partner, Luis Carlos Perea, he was an even more commanding physical presence, and would go into the majority of the challenges with Tenório. Also the way the hosts were set up, and with Escobar working to Perea’s left, Escobar would at times be faced with the speedy challenge of Avilés along the ground. This could well have been another reason for why Colombia were opting to sit deep, as neither centre-back appeared to have pace as a major asset.
In midfield, the two holding alibis were Gabriel Gómez, 29, of Independiente de Medellín, and José Ricardo Pérez. The former had obviously come into the side due to the suspension of the red-carded Leonel Álvarez, and he was offering much the same in the right-sided of the two defensive roles: Chasing, battling and the occasional thrust forward. It is difficult to say whether Álvarez’ absence hampered the Colombians on this occasion, as Gómez seemed to do fairly well. As for Ricardo Pérez, he had impressed during their 2-0 win against Ecuador, but failed to live up to that performance last time around. Once again, he was not playing with the same swagger as had been seen on the opening day of qualification, although he was usually quite comfortable in possession, and more so than in giving chase.
Ahead of the pair were another twosome in the recently added Luis Fajardo and indeed captain Carlos Valderrama. The latter was already a player with a worldwide reputation, even if he had not quite excelled so far in the qualification. This time around, too, he was quite well looked after, and operating as the more left-sided of the two advanced midfielders, he would be looking to combine with Pérez behind him and Hernández. On the ball, Valderrama was at times sublime, yet he rarely dared to accelerate and pose a threat. In fact, 26 year old Fajardo had looked a bigger danger yet, with his ability to escape the attention of the opposition. This could very well have its obvious reasons, as Fajardo was hardly a household name such as Valderrama. He had clearly shown his agility and ability to combine with the other attacking players, and did not seem much of a step down from Redín on his performance.
Up top, veteran striker Arnoldo Iguarán, who had scored three times in their opening two qualifiers, and who was once more playing through the centre, had this time been accompanied by Rubén Hernández, his 24 year old team mate at club level with Millonarios of Bogotá. This seemed to work well whenever Colombia broke forward, as they clearly had a decent level of understanding between themselves. While Iguarán had been joined through the centre by Galeano last time out, having someone working out in the wide areas would often see one of the opposing centre-backs lose their central focus, providing Iguarán with a tad more space. A constant threat, the 32 year old needed permanent surveillance. He’d escaped the attention in running towards the left in setting Hernández up for that early chance. The latter was tricky and unpredictable, and would surely give his full-back a difficult time.
The game is played out in good spirits between the two sets of players, yet this does not prevent the referee, who is having a fine game, letting it flow like he ought to, display Ecuador striker Tenório a yellow card on 28 minutes. It is more an accident than anything malicious on his behalf as he attempts to challenge Hiugita for the ball. Tenório had been played in by a lifted Fajardo pass, and while he had seemed to use the upper part of his arm to take it down, the ball had slipped away from him to an extent that the Colombian ‘keeper had come racing off his line in order to claim it. The pair collided, and Higuita came off worse, needing some medical attention before play could resume.
The half enters a bit of a see-saw period between the 30th and 35th minute, with both teams having the opportunity to catch the opponent on the counter and off balance. However, when Ecuador break directly from a Colombian corner, Cuvi fails to release the ball in time for the sprinting Avilés, who must have been so disappointed not to have been played in. The captain had transported the ball some 40 yards before he’d run into a cul de sac, ultimately tackled by Hernández, who had made a great recovery run.
Down the other end, there’s some more enterprising play inside the hosts’ half with Valderrama and Fajardo again engaging in a triangle, something which leads to the latter again releasing Hernández down the left flank. His weak cross, however, only finds Quiñónez. And a minute later, Iguarán is played right through by Valderrama, but the Ecuadorian defensive line had pushed out sufficiently just in the nick of time to place the striker offside. Despite this, he raced into the area and slotted the ball over Morales and into the back of the net. The whistle had already gone.
Opening half nearing its end
Through to the half-time break, Ecuador are really giving their all to put their visitors to the test. They stand up well to the physical contest, and they are energetic and driven in possession, always looking to exploit any kind of hesitation within the Colombian ranks. While we see slightly less from their two designated wide midfielders, Cuvi and Aguinaga, there’s suddenly a burst onto the stage by the more forward of the two central midfielders, Rosero. Twice he had come back inside his own half to carry the ball into the opposition’s half, a task which had until then been dutifully accepted by Fajardo, though Rosero will typically look for either of the two playmakers.
Colombia, whilst having let the visitors in behind their defensive line on a couple of occasions, most recently on 40 minutes, when a failed interception by Ricardo Pérez in the left corner of their own penalty area had presented Avilés with a chance to take a swing at goal only eight yards out, hitting Higuita straight on the chin, were otherwise compact. Their two holding midfielders were providing stability, and they were not easy to break down. Gómez was doing well filling in for Álvarez, who was not missed a great deal. In fact, the 29 year old of Independiente Medellín was offering more in terms of combat than Pérez alongside him.
In a spirited opening period, the referee signalled his whistle for the teams to enter the dressing rooms with nearly two minutes of additional time having been played. There had been a few minor player scraps requiring attention from either team’s medical staff, and one of those incidents had come about as Iguarán appeared to have been hit in the head by something thrown from the stands. In fact, one could often see, especially at corner or thrown-in situations for the visitors, how they were being pelted by fruits. Even the two linesmen appeared to live a charmed life, though this seemed to be quite common during the CONMEBOL qualification altogether.
0-0, then. May the second half provide us with a goal or two.
As we see the visitors’ two attacking midfielders Valderrama and Fajardo prepare to initiate the second half, standing on the ball in the centre spot, it is with a realization that there has been no changes in personnel for either side during the half-time interval. This seems reasonable, as both sets of players had delievered a fine interpretation of the game in the opening half, and it had been interesting to see the hosts go toe to toe with perhaps somewhat more illustrious opponents. Could they sustain their first half level also in the final 45 minutes of play, and perhaps even sneak a winning goal?
Sluggish home side
The hosts start the second half a little reluctantly; they are simply a little slow out of the starting blocks. Colombia twice have the chance to fire free-kicks at goal, with Hernández drawing an awkward save out of Morales from 28 yards with his attempt, while right-back Wilson Pérez’ wayward shot from 20 yards is a desperately poorly executed free-kick from a decent position.
Colombia look sharp in the early second half proceedings, spurred on by the upper hand in possession and attempts at goal. On 52 minutes, they really should have moved in front when the alert Iguarán seizes on to a defence-splitting pass by Fajardo. The attacking midfield man’s through ball appears to have been weighted with too much power, though as the ball is about to reach goalkeeper Morales, who’s arrived at the edge of his area, he changes his mind, as he doesn’t trust the ball to have enough pace to reach him so he can pick it up with his hands. Rather than boot it anywhere first time, his hesitation sees Iguarán in, and the forward manages to take the ball around the custodian, only to lose both his sense of whereabouts and his balance, so when Iguarán swivels to roll it into the back of the empty net, the 32 year old top marksman can’t get it between the posts. He’ll have to watch in agony as the ball rolls half a yard to the left of the upright. It had been the second time Colombia had failed to aim at goal with Morales out of position.
Gradually, Ecuador regain their composure, and they start putting their act together. They had given such a fine account of themselves during the opening 45 minutes, and they’ll need to get back up on the horse in order to stand up to the opponents. Aguinaga, still keeping himself wide to the left, is seeing preciously little of the ball in these early second half exchanges, while deep-lying midfielder Fajardo has not quite got back into his groove. Cuvi had made a fine run in between Escobar and Hoyos, only to be signalled for offside against, though at least his movement is an asset to the Ecuadorians.
Their source in creation of their first goalscoring opportunity after the break is a surprising one, though, as left-back Capurro decides to venture forward and take the ball inside as he enters the final third of the pitch. He managed to side-step Gómez before playing Avilés in with a chance to strike at goal. However, Higuita had done well in racing off his line and getting a tackle in, and as the ball spun loose, right-back Izquierdo arrived by the corner of the 18 yard box to fire a shot over and wide. A decent chance goes begging.
While the game is played at decent tempo, there is perhaps an absence of individual brilliance. One could’ve wanted to see technically sound players like Aguinaga and Valderrama exert greater influence, though neither has so far brought the spectators to the edge of their seats (which is a colloquial phrase in this context, given the fact that plenty have opted to stand rather than sit). The former, though, does manage to take the ball past an opponent, weaving his way from his own half and into Colombia’s, only to be intentionally brought to the ground by a severe Gómez challenge. Perhaps had the tackle even warranted a yellow card.
We will soon enough get our second booking of the game, and it happens as Higuita all of a sudden decides to join in on the action, coming towards the edge of his area to seemingly collect a through ball meant for Tenório. Instead, Higuita does what Higuita would do, which is speed out from his area ball at feet. He reached the halfway point inside his own half out by the right hand side until he was scythed down from behind by Avilés. The forward, who had had both of the home side’s best opportunities so far, could have few objections against his warning, issued to him in yellow by Mr Calabria on 63 minutes.
It is the home side which introduces the first substitute of the game. We had seen an Ecuadorian warm up along the touchline in the couple of minutes leading up to the change, and this proved to be Enrique Verduga, who had been an unused substitute during the loss in Colombia. Coming off for Verduga, a relatively tall, strongly built player, was captain Cuvi, of whom we had not seen a whole lot recently. Perhaps had he run out of steam. Cuvi had, after originally starting out wide left, switched across to the right after about only five minutes of play, but he would certainly appear through the centre a lot. As had happened when Cuvi had come off in Barranquilla, he handed the captain’s armband over to the substitute. While it had been Pietro Marsetti on that occasion, it was Verduga’s turn to captain his country this time around.
Chances at both ends
The game was still an enjoyable spectacle, with plenty of clever movement among both sets of players, and how we were still scoreless was owed more to coincidences than anything else. In 64 minutes, the ceaseless Iguarán nicked the ball off a hesitant Quiñónez, who had been dallying in possession as the last man. In a nippy manner, Iguarán had picked the ball and sped towards the area, entering from a right-sided position, while Quiñónez, realizing his error, had done his very best to keep up. The 32 year old striker had struck the ball low from around 12 yards out, but only into the side-netting. Sound chance again.
Down the other end, on 67 minutes, it was that man Avilés to yet again be in the thick of the action. Aguinaga had looked lively in the last couple of minutes, looking for runs ahead of him, and though his forward pass towards Tenório on this occasion had looked to be dealt with by the Colombian defence, reluctance to boot a clearance anywhere almost cost the visitors deerly. From Tenório on the edge of the area, the ball worked its way to Avilés to his right, and suddenly one on one with Higuita, the striker, socks trailing at this point, struck a shot, but he seemed to misfire, and the ball also got tangled in the pile of toilet paper which had been thrown on to the pitch, taking the fizz out of his shot. In the end, it was a comfortable save for the ‘keeper, despite the opportunity’s risk level.
Colombia again conjure up a major goalscoring opportunity on 71 minutes, when Fajardo, who is a lively player indeed, wins a 50/50 challenge with Quiñónez halfway inside the Ecuadorian half. The hosts had been looking to mount an attack of their own, though they had failed to get going in midfield, and Fajardo had read the situation well in arriving on the scene a split second before the centre-back. Against an exposed defence, all Fajardo needed to do was look up and spot Hernández’ run to his advanced left. The wide forward was played in, and free to race in on goal with no defender in sight, he opted to take the ball round the ‘keeper, who had come racing off his line towards the edge of his area. Morales ducks down to try and beat the ball away from Hernández’ feet, but he’s too late, having misinterpreted the forward’s speed, and instead he gets a hold of the Colombia #11, who is massively hindered, but who nevertheless remains on his feet and gets to the ball. As he’s about to strike it into the back of the empty net, Quinteros comes sliding along the ground, and gets his body in the way of the ball, seeing it ricochet off him and away for a left wing corner. It was a huge moment, and a big goal-saving interception.
Tactical dispositions by hosts
When Verduga had come on, he had seemingly slotted into the heart of their midfield alongside Fajardo (as one will have duly realized at this point, there’s a Fajardo in both teams). Rosero, who had been playing in the advanced, central midfield position had been shifted out towards the right, where the departing Cuvi had predominantly featured. Verduga, a team mate of both Fajardo, Capurro and Avilés at Emelec, did not seem to have much pace about him, and also not so much desire to come forward, so the substitution looked to have been a defensive one. With Colombia looking the stronger team in this phase of the game, Draškovic was maybe looking to secure the solitary point.
Having said this, he makes his second change of the afternoon in taking Rosero off and replacing him with striker Ermen Benítez. Satisfied with a point, eh? It would rather look like he was going to try and go for the win. Unless there were to be positional changes for either of the starting forwards, Ecuador now had all the elements in place to go with a 4-3-3 formation. Would this prove to be so, and if it did, would they be able to assert some authority on the visitors towards the end of the game?
Having had the benefit to review Ecuador’s set-up for a few minutes in the wake of their second substitution, one can say for sure that they had gone with three up front. Avilés, who had played as the left-sided striker in Barranquilla, but who had featured more towards central/central right positions here, was placed to the left among the three, with Benítez appearing through the centre, and with Tenório slightly to his right. Aguinaga looked like he had been told to roam with freedom of expression, though it also appeared as if he had been switched towards a right-sided channel position. Verduga and Fajardo were doing the dirty midfield work, and the 21 year old Mexico bound Aguinaga seemed to have little appetite for backtracking at this point.
Colombia had looked threatening only a few minutes earlier, but they now needed to focus to a greater extent again defensively, with the hosts having added further numbers to their attack. On 82 minutes, they earn their first booking of the game, although it seems to be a fairly cheap one, with Fajardo having been in a brief tangle with Quiñónez. Fajardo, who ten minutes earlier had been played in by Wilson Pérez for a half volley from 20 yards, struck with venom just over, was beginning to look tired, and he would be taken off a minute and a half later, with Albeiro Usuriaga, the lanky, quick forward, coming on in his place. This was the signal for Colombia themselves to switch to a 4-3-3 formation.
The final sequences of the game are somewhat disturbed by what is a skip in our tape, meaning the referee will bring the game to an end with nearly three minutes left for play. Well, that is according to the visuals we have available to us. What we can confirm, is that the Colombians have indeed gone into a 4-3-3 formation of their own late on, with Usuriaga coming into the left-sided forward position, perhaps a little surprisingly. This will only be emphasised when they decide to make their second change in taking the dangerous Hernández off for a more outright kind of striker in Juan Jairo Galeano, who had featured in Asunción last Sunday. With him on, Iguarán goes into the forward right position to offer balance to that three-pronged frontline.
It is the hosts who seem to have the better of the final proceedings, with a couple of opportunities coming their way. They do enjoy to put balls into the box from various angles, and it is midfielder Fajardo who prods one in from a deep position along the right, tempting Higuita to come way off his line to punch for the third time in the game, despite the traffic in front of him. It had not looked dangerous immediately in the situation after the punch, as the ball had ended up with Perea, but inexplicably, the big centre-half had failed to control it, with the ball finding its way to Ecuador left-back Capurro, who tried to take advantage of Higuita being stranded in no-man’s land still. He couldn’t get his right-footed effort on target, though.
With time almost up, Ecuador arrive at one final opportunity, and it is a big one. Once again Perea is unable to properly clear the ball when Aguinaga hits a hopeful one towards the edge of the area, and substitute Benítez can arrive at the ball and have a go from 18 yards, only to see his effort sail about a yard over the target, with Higuita well committed six yards away from his goal. Had the striker been able to get it goalwards, the ‘keeper would’ve stood no chance.
Time up. 0-0.
It is a game played out in fine tempo and ditto spirit between the players. Both sides have the tools to provide creativity, and both defences are tested during the course of the game, with several opportunities at either end of the pitch. Colombia had probably had the picks of the bunch, as both Hernández (twice) and Iguarán had had the chance to shoot at a more or less unguarded goal, but Avilés could also probably face a sleepless night in contemplating how he had failed to produce stronger shots when in two or three fine goalscoring positions.
Both managers were cautiously eyeing the other’s tactical assessments as the second half progressed, and both would switch from 4-4-2 (Colombia more precisely from their 4-2-2-2) to 4-3-3 late on. The final score of 0-0 was more coincidental than warranted from what had been dished out, but an away point it was nevertheless for the Colombians, who were now looking forward to tackle Paraguay at home to try and grab that top spot which would earn them an intercontinental double-header play-off game against Israel.
1 Morales 6.5
a bit of a loose cannon on this display, as he appeared a bit hot-headed in his decision making. Desperately fortunate in how he was spared blushes after the visitors’ wayward finishing. Should’ve been awarded a penalty against for the way he came out and half knocking Hernández off his feet when the forward was clean through
2 Izquierdo 6.7
needed to remain at the back for the majority of the game, with Hernández a direct opponent. At times struggled with his opponent’s pace and trickery, and was not always able to prevent a cross from coming in
3 Quiñónez 6.7
a player which oozes desire, but who does not always have the quality to back it up with, even if he is confident enough in possession, and not afraid of making forward strides. Can certainly be more disciplined in his defensive work
5 Fajardo 7.3
accepts a whole lot of responsibility in distribution from his deep position, and he does well. His tenacity is another major asset, and so vital to the team’s defensive structure, as he breaks up play well
6 Capurro 7.1
a very calm presence at left-back, where is never stressed, and he appears very confident when making strides into enemy territory, even setting up a major chance in the second half
8 Aguinaga 7.0
his technical ability is undoubted, and he for sure is able to spot a player ahead of him and thread a pass. Still he fails to assert enough attacking influence, as he typically remains in his wide position
9 Tenório 7.1
the big target-man gave his all in every aerial challenge, and there were a few. Stood up very well to the two centre-backs, and provided Avilés with space due to the fact that Tenório drew much attention. A couple of decent efforts, too. Saw yellow for his late challenge on Higuita from a cross
10 Cuvi 7.1
Ecuador’s primary playmaker, whose original position was out wide, but who certainly pulled towards central areas often enough. Clever in possession, able to thread a pass through, though physical confrontation appears not his forte. Again off during the second half
(15 Verduga –
added physicality to midfield for the final stages, though he did not distinguish himself as he would usually play the ball on to a team mate)
14 Avilés 7.0
his awareness sees him arrive at two fine opportunities, though he fails to produce the necessary end product. Goes through a lot of work in the channels. Deservedly booked for his foul on Higuita
16 Rosero 6.6
can not influence on play much, as he is often found chasing shadows, with Ecuadorian tactics not taking his role into major consideration. Came off for a third forward
(19 Benítez –
offered another powerful body up top in the latter stages, but assistance to the front three could’ve been better in their search for the breakthrough. Should’ve hit the target with his shooting chance in the dying stages)
18 Quinteros 7.2
a sizeable defender who is comfortable in possession, and who does not hesitate in moving forward ball at feet. Possibly brought in to try and contain Iguarán in the air, though there’s few opportunities to showcase that ability
1 Higuita 6.7
certainly not deterred after last week’s injury time penalty concession, and continues his alert play in quickly moving off his line. Makes a few close range saves, and despite traffic ahead comes out to punch high crosses on three occasions
2 Escobar 7.1
feels the presence of Tenório, but gives another good account of his aerial ability nevertheless. Strong in his positioning and near distribution
4 Wilson Pérez 7.0
a resolute full-back display in which his main focus is on defensive duties
5 Hoyos 7.1
seemed less erratic this time around, and offered himself as an outlet along the left when they broke forward, though less attacking than last week, due to the fact that he had Hernández directly ahead of him
6 Ricardo Pérez 6.7
clearly less tenacity in his game in comparison to that of his defensive midfield colleague, and again he can’t quite get going with his distribution from the deep. The Ecuadorians are aware of him, and quickly put him under pressure, though his 40 yard free-kick against the bar was a piece of fine thinking and execution
8 Gómez 7.1
tenacious display which by default takes your thoughts in the direction of the player he deputises for: Álvarez. Covers plenty of defensive ground, and never shirks a challenge
11 Hernández 7.2
his movement and fine ability in possession is a bonus for the Colombians going forward, but he really ought to have finished the game with at least one goal to his name
(9 Galeano –
on late to feature through the centre, but hardly seen anywhere near the ball in the closing stages)
12 Valderrama 6.8
for a player with such a reputation, he simply doesn’t do enough. Is much the less industrious of the advanced midfield pair, though you can obviously see his quality on the ball and his technique in tight situations
15 Perea 6.8
for a defender his size, he ought to have done better in aerial challenges, and he even got brushed off the ball quite easily on one occasion. Fine positional awareness, and is clearly comfortable alongside Escobar
16 Iguarán 7.0
gave plenty of running to the cause, though could not replicate his goalscoring from last time these two met. No shortage of opportunities, though. Little chance to showcase his aerial talent this time around
17 Fajardo 7.2
tireless performance in which he shows plenty of attacking zest. Makes several forward runs, both on and off the ball, and is a major presence in the final third of the pitch. Off shortly after his cheap yellow card
(7 Usuriaga –
comes on to provide width to the left in what is subsequently a three-man attack line, yet with Colombia being pinned back, he does not have sufficient time to prove his worth on the counter)