Three inches and a crossbar.
That’s all that kept Ecuador from a famous and much-deserved win over the Netherlands Friday at Khalifa International Stadium that ended in a 1-1 draw in Group A’s second match day.
After Enner Valencia’s third tournament goal had equalized for the South American side, a rebound fell to winger Gonzalo Plata on the right side of the Netherlands box in the 57th minute. Plata collected the ball with his right foot and touched it to his left, where he unleashed a curling shot that blasted off Andries Noppert’s crossbar after the Dutch keeper was well beaten.
OFF THE CROSSBAR
Ecuador was this close to taking the lead 😬 pic.twitter.com/zNe5KrbuUv
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 25, 2022
Three inches and a crossbar deny Ecuador
It was a moment when 18 million Ecuadorian hearts collectively stopped. Immediately after, Ecuadorians everywhere must have had a “what could have been” moment. In a game that they dominated except for the opening 20 minutes, Plata’s goal would’ve been a fair reward for Ecuador’s positivity and attractive football. Instead, they achieved a draw that felt more like a loss despite starting the day as underdogs. It also kept them from being the first team at the World Cup to qualify for the round of 16.
And three inches and a crossbar were the culprits.
“We didn’t win because of the nature of football sometimes. In football, you can deserve to win and for whatever reason, you don’t get that result,” Ecuador Head Coach Gustavo said of the match in the FIFA post-game press conference. The Argentinian tactician insisted the result on the day left him unbothered as his young team was much the equal, and the better, of their European counterparts.
The stifling Ecuadorian defense, who conceded for the first time in over 11 hours and since March, held the Netherlands to only two shots in the match. This marks the worst showing for a European team since 1966. And it came in spite of a change of formation for Alfaro’s charges.
2 – The Netherlands have attempted just two shots against Ecuador, the fewest recorded for a European nation in a single World Cup match since 1966. Dammed. pic.twitter.com/U6FetmhJAi
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) November 25, 2022
Read More: Ecuador Predicted Lineup vs. Netherlands: Waiting on “Superman”
Ecuador the “much better” team
“We didn’t play a good match. We didn’t play well in terms of ball possession, and that’s our problem. Also, all the second balls, all the duels, were won by Ecuador,” the Netherlands coach, Louis Van Gaal said. The 71-year-old criticized his team for their poor showing and admitted that despite their pedigree, they were outclassed on the pitch by Ecuador. The Netherlands were pegged back for much of the second half and were lucky to escape with the draw.
“Ecuador could’ve won,” Van Gaal shared frankly. “I was satisfied with the 1-1 but not with the game. The duels were all for Ecuador, and when that happens, you cannot win.”
“The clever thing today is that we played the match and have one point against a much better opponent, that’s how I see it,” Van Gaal admitted.
Alfaro, for his part, attempted to calm his team before the match. Earlier in the week, he told the assorted press, “We have everything to win and nothing to lose.”
He modified that a bit in the lead up against the Dutch by tempering expectations. “What I told them before the match was, it’s OK to admit we’re not as good as our opponent. There’s no wrong in doing that. We prepared for this match with great confidence,” Alfaro stated.
During the game, however, Alfaro attempted to spur his team to victory.
“I told my group that we had 90 minutes to show that we might not have such famous players but that we could be at the level. The players realized that they could play well against the Netherlands and that if they had the right attitude, we could equalize and even win this match. That’s what we said at halftime.”
It led to Ecuador playing with verve and confidence and almost stealing the victory in a historic win for the Andean country.
Read More: Netherlands Predicted Lineup vs. Ecuador in World Cup Group A
What’s next for Ecuador? Win against Senegal or go home
The result against the Netherlands leaves Ecuador’s fate in its own hands. It will need at least a tie against Senegal on Tuesday to go through to the next round. It would be cruel if Ecuador went out, as they and Captain Enner Valencia have been one of the biggest head-turners at the tournament.
Alfaro spoke like a proud father while he discussed his team and where the result leaves them.
“To me, the result was not the most important thing today, it was their attitude,” Alfaro said. “We are talking about 20-, 21-year-old players with a great future ahead of them. We have a great leader in Enner Valencia, but the rest of our squad are young and lack that experience.”
“It’s a learning curve, we had to gain maturity. We might go through, we might not, but nothing will change the perception I have of my players. We’re talking about players with a great future ahead of them.”
Ecuador will wait again on “leader” Enner Valencia’s fitness after he was stretchered off the field toward the game’s end. The captain must play an integral part if Ecuador is to beat Senegal and make it to the round of 16.
Of course, Ecuador’s passage or failure to qualify for the next round of the World Cup wouldn’t even be under discussion but for three inches and a crossbar.