The two Latin American sides in Group E got off to a rough start in the World Cup, as Honduras fell 3-0 against France and lost Wilson Palacios to a red card, while Ecuador coughed up a late winner to Switzerland in a 2-1 defeat. La Tri may fancy their chances against short-on-talent, high-on-spirit Honduras, but must be aware that any slip-up would likely spell doom for their chances of making the knockout stage.
EXPLOSIVE ECUADOR: On sheer speed, Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia may be the most terrifying players to face in the World Cup, and the bad news for opposing teams is they start opposite the field from each other for Ecuador. The good news? Honduras’ defensive approach means that Montero and Valencia are not likely to get anywhere near the amount of space in behind that they got against Switzerland, who regularly saw their fullbacks push into attack.
ILL DISCIPLINE: Viewers of France-Honduras were probably better off after Palacios was shown a second yellow card late in the first half, but it presents a problem for Honduras, who could welcome back Houston Dynamo star Boniek Garcia and his energetic two-way play to the starting lineup. But they will sorely miss the defensive steel that Palacios brings to a midfield that requires precisely that to execute Honduras’ game plan.
LOOKING FOR A GOAL: Honduras have now been shut out of their last five World Cup matches – dating back to their second group stage game in the 1982 World Cup. An attack led by Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson is unlikely to spark fear in the hearts of MLS fans and players, but they have been considerably more successful for their country. However, it looks like the goals could come from behind the forward line, given the quality of Garcia, Roger Espinoza and Andy Najar in midfield, and the threat Victor Bernardez poses in both delivering and attacking set pieces.
MLS WATCH: There will be a strong contingent of MLS players on the field in Curitiba, especially if Garcia is able to start after a late fitness battle. Bengtson and Bernardez also likely will feature, as should former MLS stars Espinoza and Najar. Chivas USA’s Marvin Chavez could have a role to play as a sub, as could club teammate Oswaldo Minda, who will likely start on the opposite bench. Given MLS teams’ proclivity for importing Latin American stars, there could be a couple MLS players-in-waiting on the field, too.
THE STAR YOU KNOW:
- Antonio Valencia, midfielder, Ecuador: The speedy Manchester United winger figures to be key if Ecuador are to turn things around and make a run to the Round of 16. He possesses a wealth of international and club experience and his speed and skill on the ball will prove critical to finding holes in a disciplined Honduras defense.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU:
- Carlos Gruezo, midfielder, Ecuador: Holding things down in the midfielder while Valencia and Montero bomb forward is the 19-year-old Gruezo. He’s featured in the Bundesliga after making a January move to Stuttgart and started Ecuador’s clash with Switzerland. He has the makings of a top defensive midfielder, with his precise passing and ability to hold the ball.