World Cup: Ecuador, Netherlands eye a place in next round
Ecuador or the Netherlands will take a huge step towards the second round of the World Cup if either can force a victory in Friday’s Group A clash at the Khalifa International Stadium after both sides won their openers in Qatar.
But while Ecuador have set their target of advancing to the round of 16, as they did in Germany in 2006, the Dutch will be looking for a vastly improved performance to back up coach Louis van Gaal’s assertion that they can go on and win the World Cup.
The Netherlands were far from their efficient best in beating African champions Senegal 2-0 in their opening group game on Monday.
Van Gaal was pleased with the three points, and vindication of his surprise decision to hand goalkeeper Andries Noppert an international debut, but did criticise the manner of the victory, as did captain Virgil van Dijk.
“We won but we also know that we can and must do better,” the skipper said.
“Going forward we sometimes tried to force things, and we too often left ourselves exposed to Senegal’s counter-attacks. That is an area in which we will need to improve because it is an art that our next opponents, Ecuador, are very good at.”
Ecuador are awaiting further tests on veteran striker Enner Valencia before deciding whether he is fit enough to start on Friday, coach Gustavo Alfaro said. The 33-year-old scored both goals in Ecuador’s opening 2-0 win against Qatar but limped off late in that game with a knee strain.
“The tests showed that he doesn’t have an injury but the trauma is very serious. We’ll have a look at him and decide,” Alfaro told reporters.
“I said the other day that not even fire could stop Enner. If it’s up to him, he will play. Let’s hope he responds well in training.”
Alfaro said the pressure was off Ecuador given the Netherlands’ higher ranking and presumed superiority. “We have everything to win and nothing to lose,” he said.