Someone also pencil in a few Ecuadorian names. They would be a steal and could prove a fortune. Reminiscent of the 1980s Brazilian vibe, the South Americans have been one of the most entertaining sides in Qatar, playing an unafraid, uninhibited brand of attacking football. Their bandmaster, their captain Enner Valencia, was leading their petition, making a sign of noting down something, as if telling the 44,833 in the Khalifa and the watching world to remember to account for them too.
But first, the Dutch and young Gapko. The game had just barely settled, when Nathan Ake’s sweeping ball into the Ecuador half was picked up out Davy Klaassen. The midfielder, starting on Friday in place of Steven Berghuis on dint of his 99th minute strike against Senegal, befuddled the defence with a little interplay with Gapko. It allowed the 23-year-old to break free and shoot with his left for their terrific opening goal.
It did not pull the Ecuadorians down. If anything, they came out seemingly unaffected despite the reverse with a series of swift moves along the left. The trio of Pervis Estupinan, Valencia and Moises Caicedo were giving the right defence of Jurrien Timber and Denzel Dumfries a torrid time. Time and again they would jink down the left, leaving the defenders in their wake, forcing Virgil van Dijk to do the mopping up job. It was clear that despite being a goal up, they game was being wrested away from the Dutchmen’s grip.
Estupinan even scored at the stroke of half-time, a ferocious strike from outside the box, drilling it into the crowd outside Andriese Noppert’s goal. It went in and Ecuador celebrated wildly, joined by the crowd in the Khalifa who began to sway to their beat. Even the Dutch were convinced the strike was genuine, but their rivals’ joy was short-lived after the linesman ruled for offside against Jackson Porozo. It seemed unjust for the trailing side, it was a reprieve for the leading one but it clearly left them rattled
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So rattled, that when the second session began, Noppert, who had in the first half made a spectacular save off a thunderous Valencia shot, had a serious brain fade, practically handing the Ecuadorians the ball. The Dutch midfield, unable to play it out, could only watch as the Ecuadorians sizzled their passes upwards to the Dutch goal. To his credit, Noppert did parry away Estupinan’s shot but could do nothing about Valencia’s elegantly stretched tap-volley.
The onslaught wouldn’t stop. Estupinan had another chance, then Angelo Preciado rattled Noppert’s crossbar with a booming shot. The impact echoed all through the mammoth, cavernous Khalifa. The Dutch had no place to hide, and to think it was a scorecard that was still only level.
Just before the end of regulation time, Valencia, an injury doubt before the tournament began, had to be stretchered out to be replaced Kevin Rodriguez. If Ecuador have to continue their fine form and fantastic flair, they need their talismanic captain to be fit. The World Cup needs him, and Ecuador, to continue lighting it up.