Sloppy visitors are left to rue their mistakes at both ends of the pitch
After last weekend in Barranquilla, Paraguay, who had won their first two qualifiers and been ahead in the group prior to the journey to Colombia, needed to win here in Guayaquil in order to top the pool and qualify for the intercontinental play-off double-header against Israel. Anything but an away win would see Colombia finish first.
Ecuador were, as had been expected beforehand, well distanced by the other two, but they had by no accounts been whipping boys: They had put up brave resistance in all three of their previous qualifiers, and in their last meeting with Paraguay, two weeks earlier in Asunción, they had perhaps even been a tad unlucky not to come away with a point.
Ecuador team news
Ecuador had been quite competitive in all of their World Cup qualifying fixtures hitherto, although their efforts had only yielded a single point, namely the one which they’d earned at home to Colombia three weeks earlier. Under Yugoslav manager Dušan Drašković, they were a relatively well-organised outfit, and despite the country’s bleak footballing traditions in comparison to some of the continent’s greats, they were steadily improving.
Having fought well despite the 2-1 loss in Asunción two weeks before, the Ecuadorians must’ve felt somewhat optimistic coming into this fixture. The game carried much greater significance to their opponents, but in building a foundation from which to keep improving, home form was important. Having lost on both their travels, Ecuador at least would want to maintain their unbeaten home record.
There were three changes in the squad since their last tie. Neither of defender Tulio Quinteros, who had looked fairly capable at centre-back alongside Hólger Quiñónez in their two latest qualifiers, midfielder Julio César Rosero or striker Ermen Benítez were present on this occasion. Into the 16 man strong matchday gathering had come central defender Wilson Macías, who had featured alongside Quiñónez in their opening day defeat in Colombia, as well as midfielders Pietro Marsetti and Enrique Verduga. The latter pair had both been in the squad for their first two qualifiers, and both had once come on as substitutes.
This meant Drašković had sacrificed a forward for a (central) midfielder, but with at least a couple of players capable of performing in multiple positions, it should not represent too much of a problem.
4-4-2 had been Ecuador’s formation all along hitherto, and it was difficult to see another outline with this 16 man squad in mind.
Paraguay team news
Cayetano Ré’s side had led at half-time in Colombia, in a fixture where a point would’ve sufficed to see them claim top spot in their qualifying group. However, their poor second half showing had heaped a 2-1 defeat onto them, and so they were in need of a win here in order to progress to the intercontinental play-off matches with Israel. The collapse, if we may be so brutal, came as something of a surprise, especially as the Paraguayans had looked relatively solid for two and a half matches.
If they were to reach their second successive World Cup, they still had plenty of work to do, starting here in Guayaquil. Señor Ré had made two changes to the squad since the defeat last Sunday in Barranquilla: Both starting striker Eumelio Palacios, who had come off injured after 25 minutes, and second half substitute, centre-back Luis Caballero, were out. The former was likely still injured, whilst Caballero might have been sacrificed for more attacking options. Both had previously featured in all three of their matchday squads in the current qualification campaign.
Coming into the squad on this occasion were experienced midfielder Adolfino Cañete and strong centre-forward Roberto Cabañas. The former was well remembered from their 1986 World Cup side, and he had also featured during the recently held Copa América. This was, however, Cañete’s first inclusion in the ongoing World Cup qualification. At 33, did he still have it, though? Incidentally, he was playing in Córdoba, Argentina, where he was a team mate of young goalkeeper Rubén Ruiz Díaz. The recall for Cabañas was expected, as he had been allowed to travel by his French club Brest. It meant that this would be the first of Paraguay’s four qualifiers where both Cabañas and wide forward Alfredo Mendoza, who had scored that stunner in their 2-1 loss the previous weekend in Colombia, were available to the manager.
There was still no José Luis Chilavert. The extravagant, 24 year old goalkeeper, based in Spain with Real Zaragoza, had been sent off during their win at home to Ecuador, and subsequently been suspended for the trip to Colombia. Whether his Spanish club had refused him to travel (Chilavert kept goal for Zaragoza in a 2-2 league draw away to Celta Vigo on this date, 24 Sep), or whether señor Ré had decided not to pick him, remains unclear. Paraguay’s two ‘keepers, as last time around, were 35 year old Roberto Fernández and said fledgling Ruiz Díaz.
4-3-3 had been the order of the day so far in this qualification for Paraguay, and in such a decisive fixture, it was difficult to imagine anything different here.
46 year, from Brazil, was match referee Arnaldo Coelho. Few officials in the world, let alone in South America, could boast greater international experience than senhor Coelho. He had refereed in his first World Cup qualifier as far back as 16 years earlier, when he’d overseen a 1-0 win for Argentina in Bolivia ahead of the 1974 World Cup. That was one of a total of five World Cup qualifiers of his.
Without comparison, Coelho’s greatest achievement had been the 1982 World Cup final, where he had run the rule over Italy’s famous 3-1 win against West Germany in Spain. That had been his second appearance of the tournament, and in fact the second appearance in which West Germany had played a part. The first had been the second group stage meeting with England (0-0).
Coelho’s World Cup bow had come four years earlier, in Argentina, when he’d overseen France’s 3-1 group stage win against Hungary, in the so-called ‘group of death’. In addition, he had had the 1979 Copa América (third and decisive) final between Paraguay and Chile, as well as appearing no less than four times in the recently held continental tournament in Brazil, where his major honour had been the second group stage game between Uruguay and Argentina (2-0).
Add to this all a host of international friendlies, participation in the Olympic Games (both in 1976 and 1988), various youth World Cups, and not least a whole range of Copa Libertadores fixtures over the years, a picture was beginning to emerge regarding senhor Coelho’s expertise. The match appeared to be in very capable hands.
This would be the 22nd ever meeting between Ecuador and Paraguay, since their inaugural head to head back in 1939, in Lima, Peru, for a Copa América tie. In fact, their first 12 encounters, through to 1975, had all happened in the South American championships.
14-4-3 read the statistics through history in Paraguay’s favour. The most recent meeting had obviously come two weeks earlier in Asunción. They had been paired for World Cup qualification for only the second time in history, with the first occasion being ahead of the 1982 games in Spain. Then, as now, Ecuador had played their home game against the Paraguayans in Guayaquil, albeit in another stadium, and they’d won by the only goal of the game. Two players from the total of 26 who had featured that 17 May 1981 day on the Ecuadorian Pacific coast still remained today: Both were Paraguayans, and they were defender Juan Torales and famous midfielder Julio César Romero.
Estadio Monumental of Barcelona de Guayaquil was a newly built stadium with a 60,000 capacity. It had been opened less than two years earlier, and some big names in South American football, among them the great Pelé, had been present. The former Brazilian World Cup winner had been very impressed on his visit, and compared the stadium to the famous Maracanã of Rio de Janeiro. Pele’s description is made eternal on a plaque inside the stadium:
“Se o Maracanã é o maior estádio do mundo, o Monumental é um dos mais belos.” (If the Maracanã is the biggest stadium in the world, the Monumental is one of the most beautiful)
The stadium’s full name was ‘Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero Carbo’, named after the Barcelona club president which got it built.
The playing surface was immaculate. Alas, with Ecuador’s hopes of qualifying for Italia ’90 since long gone, there were large unpopulated sections in the concrete stands. Still, those who had turned out, made sure to be heard. The atmosphere was sound for such a sparse crowd.
|12 Víctor Mendoza||28||Aucas|
|3 Hólger Quiñónez (c)||27||Barcelona|
|4 Wilson Macías||23||Filanbanco|
|5 Kléber Fajardo||51′||24||Emelec|
|6 Luis Capurro||28||Emelec|
|7 Pietro Marsetti||sub 84′||24||LDU Quito|
|8 Álex Aguinaga||21||Deportivo Quito|
|11 Nelson Guerrero||52′, sub 76′||27||LDU Quito|
|14 Raúl Avilés||25||Emelec|
|17 Carlos Muñoz||40, 79′||24||Filanbanco|
|21 Freddy Bravo||27||Filanbanco|
|9 Byron Tenório||on 76′||23||El Nacional|
|15 Enrique Verduga||on 84′||25||Emelec|
|x Carlos Morales||24||Barcelona|
|x Jimmy Izquierdo||27||Barcelona|
|x Hamilton Cuvi||29||Filanbanco|
|1 Roberto Fernández||35||Cerro Porteño|
|2 Virginio Cáceres||sub 80′||27||Guaraní|
|3 César Zabala||28||Cerro Porteño|
|4 Juan Torales||33||Libertad|
|5 Rogelio Delgado (c)||29||Independiente|
|6 Jorge Nunes||79′||27||Deportivo Cali|
|7 Buenaventura Ferreira||29||Guaraní|
|8 Adolfino Cañete||sub 72′||33||Talleres de Córdoba|
|9 Roberto Cabañas||51′||28||Brest|
|10 Gustavo Neffa||17||Olimpia|
|11 Alfredo Mendoza||25||Stade Brest|
|14 Jorge Guasch||on 80′||28||Olimpia|
|16 Ramón Hicks||on 72′||30||Oviedo|
|x Rubén Ruiz Díaz||19||Talleres de Córdoba|
|x Julio César Romero||29||Puebla|
|x Javier Ferreira||20||Necaxa|
Not for the first time in the CONMEBOL section of this World Cup qualification, does our tape dive straight into the action. It is always a bonus when you have a few minutes of pre-match ambience, but no such luxury has been provided through this tape. Anyway, this is not the place for such complaints. I’ll just head straight into the action myself. Thanks to a later on-screen clock showing something like 17-18 seconds of action missing, I am led to believe this is when we enter the proceedings.
Hosts begin the stronger
Within the first two minutes, there’s some early warnings for the visitors, who are the team desperately looking for the two points which a victory will reward them with. On both occasions it is Álex Aguinaga, Ecuador’s young playmaker, the 21 year old starlet, who attempts early balls into space behind the Paraguayan defence. On the first, which happens just shy of a minute into the game, Aguinaga has taken up a position along the right handed channel, and he plays a diagonal ball in behind visiting right-back Virginio Cáceres, whose lack of attention sees wide midfielder Nelson Guerrero arrive to get a header at goal. Not that there was much in terms of a goal threat, as the header came from some way out, towards the left of the area, and Guerrero’s main priority had been to direct it goalwards. He did draw a save from the tall, gangly Roberto Fernández. Less than a minute on, Fernández must come out from his area to sweep away a throughball from the Mexico bound number 8. The nippy Raúl Avilés had been Aguinaga’s intention to reach.
After such an intriguing start to the game by the hosts, could we perhaps read into it symptoms of underestimation by the Paraguayan visitors? They had looked quite solid in their first qualifier, the one at home to Colombia, even if they had left it late for their winning goal. Then they had paused for a couple of weeks, before they were now playing their final qualifier, and the last three had happened in the space of these past three Sunday afternoons. They had looked gradually poorer. They could certainly ill afford to not put 100 % of effort into this fixture.
Paraguay continue their less motivated start, and Ecuador remain on the front foot in the early exchanges. Not that there is a whole lot to talk about as far as working the goalkeeper is concerned, though there is another moment with six and a half minutes on the clock, when right-back Freddy Bravo, who is appearing for the second match running, has moved into an advanced central midfield position and sprayed a low ball diagonally towards the left, where captain Hólger Quiñónez has come forward following a deadball situation. Bravo’s pass is accurate, and there’s no great pressure on the tall central defender, who proceeds to dart past Cáceres and advance in on goal from the left. However, he’s not in a position where he’s able to get any power behind his shot, coming from his favoured left foot, which is saved by Fernández’ outstretched left leg. The save was probably more comfortable than it had initially looked.
While the home side had enjoyed the better of the opening ten minutes, the visitors were gradually coming into the game. Ecuador had looked confident, keeping possession inside the visitors’ half, and whenever there had been an opportunity for them to break forward quickly, they would do so. They had Aguinaga, who was terrific in running at high speed with the ball, and while he had often come into big Paraguay centre-back Rogelio Delgado’s territory in the Asunción meeting, Aguinaga had wisely opted to seek for the channels so far. Both the 21 year old and his forward partner Avilés had pace, while the Paraguayan defence didn’t look all that quick, at least not in accelerating.
Visitors’ team selection
There was something of a surprise, or perhaps even more than just one, as far as Paraguayan team selection went. Julio César Romero is certainly their biggest name internationally, though the little midfield schemer had failed to live up to his reputation so far in the qualification, even if he had given his best display last week during the reverse in Colombia. Now, Romero had been left on the bench, and a similar fate had happened to Jorge Guasch, the captain of Olimpia, the Asunción team which had been losing Copa Libertadores finalists only a few months earlier. Leaving one out had possibly been expected, but both those acclaimed midfielders?
Returning midfielder Adolfino Cañete, an industrious, left-footed player, now aged 33, had come into the side for the first time in this qualification. He was forming a two-man midfield along with the combative Jorge Nunes, the silver-haired, tough-tackling player who would often end up in controversial situations. The pair were Paraguay’s only two starting midfielders in a formation which definitely could be described as 4-2-4. It was a daring move by Mr Ré. They were, after all, playing away from home, and were up against a side playing without any pressure whatsoever.
Paraguay hit the upright
Approaching 12 minutes, there’s a huge opportunity for the visitors to take the lead. Roberto Cabañas, the talismanic striker, now playing in France with Stade Brest, had taken down a headed pass on his chest inside the area, with his back to goal, but he brought the ball under control, and managed to skip between both of Ecuador’s centre-backs, Wilson Macías and Quiñónez. From 14 yards out, Cabañas struck a low, firm shot with his right foot which beat the ‘keeper, but which came right back from the post and into a relieved Víctor Mendoza’s grasp as he was lying on the floor, having flung himself in order to try and stop the shot. Cabañas could’ve had his second goal of the qualification, and Paraguay could’ve taken a lead which they would hardly have meritted on balance of the early play.
Visitors move leisurely
What is quite noticeable, despite that fine Cabañas opportunity, which the striker had done so well to create singlehandedly, is the Paraguayans’ lack of urgency: They have little tempo in their play. Similar had been noted during the trip to Colombia, and despite fielding no less than four forwards, they have failed to put the Ecuadorians under any sustained level of pressure in the first 15 minutes.
Playing four up front, in a decisive away qualifier, is either bravery at its best or sheer foolishness. It can easily leave your midfield unbalanced and your defence exposed, but Cayetano Ré has clearly thought less of the opponent, and has decided that attack is their best means of defence. It is not like they must score early; it is not like they must even score in the opening half. But they look sluggish.
Both of Paraguay’s France based forwards, Cabañas and Mendoza, are featuring for the first time together in this qualification. The former had introduced himself, while Mendoza had yet to ignite. He had of course scored that beauty just before half time last Sunday, so everyone in attendance knew what the left-sided forward was capable of. In addition, they had Buenaventura Ferreira clinging to the right hand side offensively, while super-exciting prospect Gustavo Neffa was playing through the centre, perhaps just a bit behind Cabañas. 17 year old Neffa had been something of a revelation, especially considering his age, and Ré clearly had a lot of faith in him despite his tender years.
Paraguay open the scoring!
Paraguay draw first blood as they move in front on 19 minutes. They win a couple of challenges in midfield, and the ball is worked out into the wide left position by Neffa for Mendoza, whose cross towards the near post is picked up by the alert Cabañas. The striker ran towards the byline inside the area, and squared the ball back in front of goal, where Neffa was on hand to tuck it into the back of the net for a precious opening goal. It had been Mendoza’s first purposeful involvement, and the three forwards had combined well. Now Paraguay had their goal, would they do anything differently? It was a long way to go yet before they could cross that finishing line.
How about the home side? Well, Ecuador had had a bright opening in which they had let the ball swiftly between their players, and from the back, in particular right-sided defender Freddy Bravo had showed commitment in coming forward. Like in their away leg in Paraguay, Carlos Muñoz was the right hand midfield man, and he had a knack of tucking inside to aid the plight of his central midfielders. However, in these early phases of the game, Muñoz was predominantly keeping width. This allowed central midfielder Pietro Marsetti more possession than we had seen from his colleague Julio Rosero previously. And behind Marsetti sat Kléber Fajardo, this time very deep in his holding midfield role. He was almost working as a third central defender, yet with the desire to move forward to instigate Ecuador’s next move.
There was a return to play for Wilson Macías alongside captain Quiñónez at the heart of the hosts’ defence. Macías did perhaps not quite have that astute physique which had been represented through Quinteros, who had played in this position in their two most recent qualifiers. He was of a defensive nature, and unlike his skipper, didn’t venture across the halfway line. This was rather compensated for by both full-backs’ attacking ambitions, although left-sided defender, the stylish Luis Capurro, did not quite travel so much forward as his colleague on the opposite side. Keeping width along the left hand side in midfield was Nelson Guerrero, who had already shown a keen interest in getting in behind full-back Cáceres.
On 26 minutes, would you believe, Ecuador drew level. The ball had been moved hurriedly about in midfield, and all of a sudden Fajardo struck a left-footed half-volley into space behind Zabala, who was temporarily covering for Cáceres, as the right-back was having his work cut out as the Paraguayan right-sided defender. On this occasion, Cáceres had tracked Guerrero in field. Aguinaga had snuck in behind Zabala’s back, and he was away all of a sudden, sprinting into the area, and then finishing coolly with his right foot diagonally into the bottom right corner for 1-1. It was a delicately executed goal, and one which would further raise the rising star’s reputation. Paraguay’s early work had been undone, and again they had been pegged back having moved in front. This could spell disaster to their World Cup ambitions.
Trailing the leveller
Through to the half hour, there’s been a further couple of opportunities, one down either end, although the game doesn’t have a whole lot of pace to it, and the intensity levels have perhaps not been quite what had been expected, especially from the visitors in need of that victory. We’d seen previously in the qualification libero César Zabala’s wish to strike it long from the back, and he did so again, aiming for Cabañas, who was challenged in the air by Macías, with both missing out, and so the ball travelled to Neffa, who attempted a right-footed half-volley from just inside the area, though without getting any sting behind his effort, which was easily gathered by Mendoza. Briefly after, Ecuador’s Capurro hit a rasping shot from 28 yards, which Fernández pawed away for a left wing corner high by his right hand post.
Paraguay’s midfield pairing Cañete and Nunes, with a World Cup pedigree which they share with so many of their team mates, can’t quite seem to get a grip of the engine room, where Marsetti certainly is a positive acquaintance for the home side. While Rosero had so often been more or less invisible as their more central midfielder, working ahead of Fajardo, in their other qualifiers, Marsetti demonstrates his wish to be their go-to man. Perhaps is it easier to stand out when neither flank man is Aguinaga or Hamilton Cuvi, who had both demanded the ball a lot. Marsetti has size, and he’s proved a couple of times how he wishes to test his shooting boot, trying his luck from a couple of free-kicks 30-35 yards out, without troubling Fernández.
In the 39th minute, there’s a huge chance for the visitors to regain their lead, and one could ask the question how Jorge Nunes could fail to convert having been set up by Ferreira and evaded Quiñónez’ almost non-existent attempt at denying him passage through. Nunes arrived around where the penalty spot is, and on his favoured left foot, he proceeded to strike over the bar, using too much force when precision really ought to have been the order of the day. Would the visitors live to rue that opportunity?
It appears to be chances galore, even if open play in earnest lacks a bit of quality. The same could be said for Paraguay’s right-hand side defensively, where Cáceres again seems to be struggling with his positioning and his whereabouts, as Capurro is fed the ball by Avilés to the left outside the visitors’ area. The full-back spots the forward’s run ahead of him inside the area, and proceeds to thread the ball through. In behind Cáceres and on his left foot, Avilés smacks an effort against the near post, with Fernández beaten. It could so easily have spelled 2-1 for the Ecuadorians.
Muñoz’ name taken
A minute or so prior to the chance, there had been a first booking of the game, when Muñoz had gone in hard on action-man Nunes in midfield. The referee had been spotlessly positioned, and the yellow card had been meritted. It had not been a foul game in any sense so far, even if a couple of the challenges coming in had been a tad late. That man Nunes, as you’d have expected, had so often been in the thick of the action.
Defensively, Paraguay had allowed quite a lot, and they were not looking as organized as they had during their home matches. The attacking formation appeared to leave them somewhat unbalanced, and this particularly became evident when there was a chance for Ecuador to break. On 44 minutes, they could do so once again from inside their own half, and Muñoz fed right-back Bravo, who in turn played Avilés down the right hand side, while the full-back continued his run. Bravo was then played in by the striker, and his cross from the right wing found Muñoz in the centre. Unmarked, the wide midfielder connected with his head, but he failed to guide it into the back of the net, with the ball just screening off his forehead and a yard or so to the left of the upright. Fernández would not have stood a chance. It was an enterprising move which had deserved better.
See-saw end to the half
It had been an exciting finish to the half, and the visitors could really count themselves slightly fortunate not to enter the dressing rooms a goal down. Having said that, Paraguay themselves had indeed created openings, too, and one may wonder how it could’ve affected the hosts psychologically had Nunes tucked away his shot six minutes before the break.
Ecuador had attacked Paraguay’s full-backs, and given both Cáceres and Torales a difficult time, and Drašković’ disciples had created more in these 45 minutes than they probably had in the entire qualification earlier. It had been Bravo attacking the right flank and Guerrero the left, and combined with a stronger central midfield presence, Ecuador were giving as good as they were getting, even if they were up against such an experienced outfit.
Paraguay would need to raise their game after the break, and question marks have to go to how Ré has shaped his team for this vital fixture. He’s opted to overload his attack, but they have been exposed at the back and in midfield, and should look to reinforce central areas in an attempt to be more competitive. They just can not afford to concede so much territory defensively.
For the second Sunday running, Paraguay had let a crucial lead slip. They now had three quarters of an hour to correct the mistakes from these past 90 minutes (the 45 today and the final 45 of the Colombia game), and what better inspiration could there be than realizing the reward at the end?
Ecuador had clearly improved during the qualification, and the first half here today had been another step in the right direction. Considering the two late first half opportunities that they’d had to take the lead, they could perhaps even consider themselves somewhat unfortunate not to be in front, although there had been chances at the other end, too.
We arrive, again, straight into the action, with no visual of the actual kick-off procedure. Decision time is upon us.
Paraguay pushed forward immediately, and had an effort on target from Neffa, who was set up by Mendoza’s back heel to the left inside the area after Nunes had won possession and charged forward. The young forward’s shot had been low towards the near post, though it had not presented Fernández with a lot of problems. The ‘keeper had held on to it.
There are some niggles going on early in this final 45 minutes, with Cabañas, probably unintentionally, giving Capurro a slap in the face inside the hosts’ area, resulting in a need for attention from Ecuador’s exciting left-back. Play had continued across to the other side of the pitch, before the referee was made aware of a player laying injured inside the home team’s penalty area. Capurro was stretchered off, but would return to play shortly after.
Then there’s a midfield clash involving Cabañas and Fajardo, resulting in a booking for both five minutes after the restart. Cáceres had played a short pass inside to the striker, who was caught by Fajardo’s lunge, and it was difficult to see just what Cabañas had done in that situation to warrant a yellow card. Perhaps was the referee booking him for his involvement in the Capurro injury, although Mr Coelho’s body language certainly seemed to suggest that the referee wanted to issue the card on the background of the Paraguay striker’s come-together with Fajardo. The latter went down clutching his face, as if Cabañas had struck him. No video evidence seemed to back that up.
Only a minute or so after, there is a fourth yellow card of the afternoon produced by the referee, and again it is for one of the home side’s players. Wide left midfielder Guerrero, who does have some pace about him, had tried to more or less execute a counter on his own, as he picked the ball up inside his own half and speeded ahead through the centre. Ultimately, his run was halted by Delgado outside the Paraguayan penalty area, and unfortunately we do not see precisely what it is Guerrero does to merit a booking, but Delgado goes to ground after Guerrero’s darted past him, and the referee is quickly reaching for his card and displaying it to the wide midfielder’s face.
Early second half operations
The lack of urgency among the visiting players again seems apparent, and their four front players also contribute to little chasing when the home side’s players are in possession. This way it is relatively comfortable for Ecuador to play their way out of defence and shift the ball on to their midfielders, where Fajardo is perhaps a little less deep than he had been for the majority of the first half. There had so far not been much wide play from the hosts since the restart, with Muñoz more or less invisible along the right, and no pushing forward also from Bravo behind him. Guerrero opposite had attempted to get to the byline on one occasion, but in general, Ecuador were trying to reach Avilés in behind the Paraguayan defensive line. He would not stop giving chase.
Again, like had been seen before the break, Neffa would drop back into midfield, although his chasing, too, seemed quite half-hearted. Still, through their sheer numbers coming forward, the hosts were looking slightly uneasy when Paraguay won possession and could mount an attack. Nunes would continue to have a big say in midfield, while Ferreira along the right hand side still failed to get out of second gear. With next to no support from the full-backs, the two wide forwards, with Mendoza their left-sided player, made little impact, and so much seemed to hinge on Neffa and Cabañas through the centre.
On 55 minutes, a huge opportunity comes the visitors’ way when Cabañas wins a free-kick off Quiñónez out between the penalty area and the right wing corner flag, only a yard or so from the byline. Cañete is assigned with swinging the ball left-footed into the centre of the six yard area, where the big Brest striker wins the aerial challenge with ‘keeper Mendoza, who far from impresses when brought into action to deal with high balls. Cabañas’ header goes via the ground, and is only saved on the goalline by a high booted clearance from stopper Macías. Ecuador are lucky to survive.
Visitors try to impose themselves
Paraguay do have a decent share of the possession at this point, and approaching the hour mark, there appears to be not a whole lot of threat towards their backline, which at times has looked wobbly. Especially when the home players have arrived at pace. One player who has failed to stand out, though, is Cañete, who has far from been as influental in midfield as his partner Nunes. It has altogether been a disappointing return to national team action for the 33 year old.
Ecuador pose a threat when they can hit the visitors on the counter. It has previously been mentioned that they have players coming forward with pace to burn, tempo which can not quite be matched in the rather sluggish-looking Paraguayan defence. Aguinaga has so far since the start of the second half not been seen in possession a lot, but he’s had an effort low and wide of the left hand post after being set up for a shot 18 yards out by Muñoz, and next he’s the one trying to thread Avilés through one on one with Fernández. Avilés can’t quite get to the ball, and rams into the goalkeeper, who goes to the ground holding his right knee, and subsequently receives treatment. Fernández will continue to look in discomfort for a few minutes.
These next passages of play are rather dull and unimaginative. Knowing just how much is at stake for Paraguay, their continued lack of urgency, and probably more importantly, quality, is almost baffling. It is as if they either don’t wish to win the game in order to surpass Colombia at the top of the group table, or they simply do not believe that this Ecuadorian team is possible to beat. The hosts are a well-organized, tight collective, and they do possess some quality on the break.
Paraguay have a tendency to concentrate their play through the centre, something which is disappointing considering this is where the hosts look their strongest. Ferreira along the right will remain a peripheral figure more or less throughout, but Neffa at least has the idea to involve Mendoza on 65 minutes, when he sets the wide left man up for either a cross or a shot to the left inside the area after a rare break by the visitors. While the angle ultimately caught him out, Mendoza probably would’ve realized that taking aim and shooting wasn’t the best of the two options available to him. He was unable to work his namesake Mendoza in the home side’s goal. Three minutes earlier, Fajardo had let one fly from all of 30 yards, albeit half a yard over the limp Fernández’ goal frame.
Looking for that evasive peace of action, Paraguay chief Ré opts to withdraw midfielder Cañete and rather introduce yet another forward. Coming on after 72 minutes is Spain based 30 year old wide right forward Ramón Hicks, who was appearing for the third time in the qualification. Yet another player from the Mexico ’86 contingent, their manager apparently had blind faith in the experience which these players brought.
While Paraguay had perhaps not looked best balanced already in their attacking 4-2-4 shape, would bringing yet another forward into the mix solve anything? Their lack of creativity behind the forward line had clearly been an issue, and while Ré was not looking to go 4-1-5, he seemed to pull Neffa back into centre midfield, where he would accompany the tireless Nunes, who had certainly not been lacking in effort, but whose final ball had not quite been what they’d wanted. Could the 17 year old starlet have what it took to unlock this Ecuadorian defence from his conversion into a member of midfield?
Disaster for visitors
If Ré had been hoping for a quick turn of events, what happened next had definitely not been part of his plan: Ecuador took the lead! They seized on some shambolic defending when Cáceres attempted a clearance with his left foot in a central position inside the area. However, it only went to Marsetti, who 20 yards out capitalized first-time with a low, left-footed shot which found its way into the back of the net just inside the right hand post. The 24 year old LDU Quito man turned an unlikely hero, and the crescendo of noise created by those less than 20k present was highly impressive. Ecuador had come back from a goal down to take the lead, and Paraguay were now on the brink of qualification exit.
Two minutes after the goal, Paraguay remain more or less paralyzed, and the hosts look to gain from their visitors’ indifference. Capurro had spotted how Muñoz, who despite his lack of attacking threat so far in the second half still impresses through his workrate, had made a diagonal run, and the left-back played the wide right midfielder in with a low 15 yard pass. Taking the ball towards the area, Muñoz had few problems darting past a half-spirited attempt from Paraguay skipper Delgado at stopping him, but faced with a goalscoring opportunity, the 24 year old Filanbanco man had a rush of blood to his head, wildly firing his left-foot shot wide and over from a position to the left inside the area.
Next up is another substitution, this time a first from the Ecuadorian team, where manager Drašković decides to let the energetic Guerrero rest, and rather bring big, bulky striker Byron Tenório into play. Guerrero had been an instrumental figure in the home side’s breaks with his pace along the left, and both the player himself and the manager must’ve been satisfied with his contribution. Tenório was introduced from the bench for the third time in this qualification, in addition to starting in the home draw against Colombia. Thanks to his build, he was surely someone whom Drašković would look to for holding the ball up. The change also meant that Aguinaga went into that left-sided midfield position.
Almost another goal
Tenório is brought straight into action, and he shields off Cáceres to the left in midfield, and plays a short pass to Fajardo. The deep-lying Ecuadorian midfielder spots Avilés on a run right through the centre, with no Paraguayan defender anywhere near him. It is another break on for the hosts, and with the striker seeking his second goal of the qualification against what is now a beleaguered visiting unit, he takes the ball to the right around ‘keeper Fernández, but as he attempts to strike it into the back of the net from an angle, captain Delgado has recovered in time to get his head to the ball and clear it away for a right wing corner. So nearly a third.
With around eleven minutes left on the clock comes yet another proof of Paraguay’s ill discipline. Having fallen behind, some of their players appear carefree, and having conceded a couple of further big goalscoring opportunities, they are next reduced to ten players when all-action midfield man Nunes stamps on Ecuador’s Muñoz. The latter had committed a foul himself which would lead to him, too, being dismissed, as he was already on a yellow card when he caught Delgado with a lunge. The Paraguay captain had attempted to take the ball out from his area, but had been cut short in his track by Muñoz’ foul. Nunes had lost his head, and his stamping on Muñoz had been spotted by the referee, and both were off. The Ecuadorian only after he’d received some medical treatment.
The game was in danger of becoming a farce, at least from a Paraguayan point of view. Things had looked so promising when they’d gone ahead, only for them to throw it all away through casual defending and a glaring lack of team discipline. Could they paw their way back into this ten against ten? Well, Cabañas has the chance to draw them level when he takes advantage of a headed Fajardo clearance gone wrong. Rather than clear the ball away from the area, Fajardo headed it back into the danger zone, where Cabañas seized, but he could not get his left-footed effort on goal. The France based man then displayed his disgust with himself by throwing a piece of tape angrily across the byline.
Paraguay’s final substitution
In a desperate attempt to salvage something in the final ten minutes, Ré then brought on midfielder Jorge Guasch for right-back Cáceres. Guasch had started all three of their previous qualifiers, and as captain of leading domestic club Olimpia of Asunción, he must’ve been disappointed not to be given another starting role this time around. Their organization by this point was quite loose, so it was difficult to tell whether they were still working with four players up top, or whether Ferreira had actually gone into a midfield position even prior to Nunes’ sending off. Guasch, though, would slot into his natural central midfield berth.
Ecuador hammer another nail into the Paraguayan coffin
As if things were not bad enough already, six minutes from time there’s another line drawn under Paraguay’s inept second half showing. Ecuador, buoyed by the turn of events and through the energy which their goals have given them, go in search for more, and when Aguinaga finds the impressive Fajardo on a forward run along the right, the latter is played in with a short pass. Fajardo looks up to spot Avilés around the centre of the area, and while the low ball in is not perfect, it just catches Torales, who is now operating as the right-sided among the visitors’ defensive trio, wrong-footed. Avilés nips in and shoots low, right-footed into the left hand corner of goal, with Fernández unable to move as the ball finds its way into the back of his net for a third time. Stunning! If celebration is through the roof among the home fans, it probably is nothing compared to what’s going on across Colombia right now. The group victory is their’s.
Immediately in the wake of that third goal, Drašković completes his set of substitutions when he takes off the very impressive Marsetti and brings on the strong Enrique Verduga for his second cameo of the qualification. Marsetti had seemed an excellent fit in that box-to-box midfield role ahead of Fajardo, and he had indeed been the man to net that decisive second. Verduga, another physical player, came on for the final few minutes to sure things up, a task which seemed more than comfortable against a visiting team which no longer deserved to be called a unit. Paraguay had been reduced to a mere bunch of individuals.
Through to full time
In the remaining time, the two teams more or less just play through the motions. Paraguay are no longer a collective, and Ecuador just wish for time to pass through to full time, so they can confirm their famous win. As one of the continent’s minnows for such a long time, this was a victory which would be celebrated hard and long, and they could take plenty of credit from their efforts, which definitely saw them pick up the two points on merit. They even came close to adding a fourth two minutes from the end, when a low Aguinaga effort from just outside the area took a deflection off Delgado and went half a yard wide of the left hand post, with Fernández again well beaten.
Around 30 seconds into time added on, the Brazilian referee decided it was time to put the visitors out of their misery. The home players were, naturally, celebrating madly on the pitch, while the less said about the Paraguayan players’ mood, the better. Colombia were now Group 2 winners, and would go on and face off against Israel in those two intercontinental play-off matches.
Paraguay come out in an all-attack formation, and go in search of the win which will see them finish top of the group table. They’re a highly experienced team, and ought to give this Ecuadorian team a run for their money, even on away-soil. However, they only gel in periods, and they continue to look sluggish for most of the game, with their defence in particular failing to impress.
However, the visitors had moved ahead when Mendoza and Cabañas combined to set Neffa up for a tap-in, only to see their advantage wiped out a few minutes later through a classy finish from the lively Aguinaga. There were further efforts both ways in a first half which the hosts probably just shaded.
After the break, the game was relatively unimaginative for long spells, until it suddenly burst into life with around 20 minutes left for play. While the visitors added yet another forward into the mix, Ecuador found the back of the net for a second time through central midfielder Marsetti, who was having an inspired game. Shortly after, there were sendings-off, as both Muñoz and Nunes had to walk, and Paraguay never resembled a team again after that.
The lively Avilés shot home a third six minutes from time, and the delighted yellow and blue support could let their pleasure sound upon the final whistle, which at the same time meant Colombia were confirmed as group winners. Paraguay had failed dramatically, having had two ‘match-balls’, and thrown away vital leads both times. Thoroughly deserved home win in the end.
12 Mendoza 6.3
never looked confident, which came from his erratic performance when coming for high balls. Some quick distribution, but certainly did not impress
3 Quiñónez 7.2
the skipper led the defensive line well, and was again seen contributing in the forward direction on a few occasions. Solid positioning, and his telescopic legs would typically see him arrive first to the ball
4 Macías 7.0
Cabañas was always going to be a challenge, but Macías acquitted himself better than he had done in their qualification opener. Seemed more confident, and appeared to relish any duel. Sound positioning, and even if Ecuador would allow the visitors some opportunities, formed a good centre-back partnership with his captain
5 Fajardo 7.2
opened the game almost in the back four (five), but proved more effective when he switched back into a more customary, if still defensively-minded, midfield role. Assisted for 1-1, had a second half shot which just cleared the bar, and got stuck in as always. Easily one of Ecuador’s most influental players
6 Capurro 7.3
again, the fine left-back had a good performance, and he completely tamed Ferreira along his flank. Did not contribute in the forward direction very often, but had a rasping first half shot saved by the upright by Fernández. So secure and confident in possession
7 Marsetti 7.2
a solid interpretation of that box to box role which Rosero had failed to excel in earlier. Saw an increasing level of possession as the game went on, and used his physique to his advantage in challenges. Capped a fine performance off with a delightfully executed shot for 2-1. Provided some strong runs into the box. Replaced for fresh legs late on
(15 Verduga –
saw time out in that central midfield position. Hardly involved in the few minutes which he got)
8 Aguinaga 7.6
played a very accomplished part in the impressive victory with some deft passing and not least running into space. His finish for the equalizer was also superb. Had the bad habit of wanting to discuss most refereeing decisions which went in the visitors’ favour, but altogether a very good performance
11 Guerrero 7.2
fine performance along the left in midfield. Drew his full-back inside in order to create space for Aguinaga for the equalizer, and constantly kept Cáceres occupied. Also took his defensive contribution seriously, and aided the Ecuadorian plight with plenty of pace in the transitions
(9 Tenório –
worked up top after coming on, with the idea that he’d hold the ball up. Not the most technically accomplished player you’ll ever see, but physique and effort was very much part of his game. Not so much involved)
14 Avilés 7.2
he did appear to have some unresolved issues with Fernández, whom he clashed with on a few occasions. Ran himself into the ground as per usual, and having struck the post in the first half, he eventually got the goal which his contribution merited late on
17 Muñoz 7.2
a strong, committed performance to the right in their midfield, where he linked up well with Bravo behind him, and also tucked inside when the situation demanded. Sent off for two yellows, though stretchered off ultimately, as he was on the receiving end of a stamp from Nunes
21 Bravo 7.4
a fluent, attacking performance from the right-back, who was also again the designated corner taker from the right. Arrived in a few crossing positions, and unlucky not to register an assist when he fed Aguinaga late first half. Defensively stuck well to Mendoza
1 Fernández 6.8
not to blame for the defeat, as he got little help from the defence ahead of him. Perhaps he could’ve shown more decisiveness when coming for balls into the area. Seemed to struggle after colliding with Avilés second half
2 Cáceres 6.3
his task was sticking too Guerrero, which he dutifully attempted to do. Left his position as Aguinaga was allowed space for the equalizer, and also at fault with a pitiful effort to clear the ball as Marsetti capitalized for 2-1. Taken off for a midfielder late
(14 Guasch –
came on as Paraguay were already quite disillusioned, and could hardly exert any influence. Saw time out in central midfield)
3 Zabala 6.9
again proved his worth in the air, and would strike a few long balls in the forward direction, but formed part of a four man defensive line which didn’t always look coherent, and they were exposed for pace a few times as well
4 Torales 6.4
veteran full-back faced a tough opponent in Muñoz, and even full-back Bravo was allowed to the byline a couple of times. Torales’ tempo not what it ought to have been, and it was hardly his most gracious performance ever
5 Delgado 6.5
rarely got to challenge in the air, which he always relished. Looked sluggish at times, and even his positioning could be questioned, as the Paraguayan defence was penetrated several times. Left exposed by a whafer-thin midfield, it should be added
6 Nunes 6.9
an influental player when switched on, but on too many occasions let his bad temper out. Should’ve scored late in the first half, while part of a midfield which was overrun. Let his frustration get the better of him as he stamped on Muñoz to earn a late red
7 B Ferreira 6.0
for whatever reason, he looked uninspired and one-paced, and was on the fringes of the action for most of the afternoon. Could never pose a threat down the right hand side, and only circumstances saw to that he got to see the game out
8 Cañete 6.2
a disappointing return to national team action. Failed to get a hold in midfield, and even his distribution at times lacked in precision. Replaced as they went in search for another goal
(16 Hicks –
quite anonymous after coming on. Would appear to play through the centre, like a second striker)
9 Cabañas 7.4
a proper goal threat: struck the post, assisted for the goal, had a header cleared off the line, and sliced a late effort wide. Clever in his movement, but didn’t get sufficient ammunition from the flanks to show off his aerial prowess
10 Neffa 7.1
got the goal from a tap-in, and he would often position himself well for such a young player. Had a few nice touches, but even some misplaced passes. Often dropped deep, and was even pulled back into midfield second half
11 Mendoza 6.8
despite playing his part in the goal, Mendoza couldn’t quite produce the necessary quality levels along the left hand side, even if there would’ve been space in behind Bravo to exploit