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Rediff.com  » Sports » World Cup chit-chat: 'Valencia is God's gift to Ecuador'

World Cup chit-chat: 'Valencia is God's gift to Ecuador'

June 23, 2014 13:58 IST

World Cup chit-chat: 'Valencia is God's gift to Ecuador'

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Ecuador have been blessed with the form of striker Enner Valencia since he took on the goal-scoring mantle from the late Christian Benitez last year, coach Reinaldo Rueda said on Sunday.

-Complete coverage of the football World Cup

Valencia has scored all three of Ecuador’s goals in two Group E matches at the World Cup in Brazil, his first in a 2-1 loss to Switzerland followed by two in their 2-1 victory over Honduras that revived their qualifying hopes.

“I think we have been blessed by God to have this player on a goalscoring run practically right after the misfortune of Christian,” Rueda told Reuters in an exclusive interview.

“Chucho” Benitez died suddenly of heart failure aged 27 in July in Qatar where he was playing his club football.

“Enner showed it in the last six months with his club and the national team and let’s hope he continues to improve and is increasingly better with his scoring contribution for Ecuador,” said Rueda, speaking by phone from his squad’s base camp in Porto Alegre.

The 25-year-old Valencia was the Mexican league’s top scorer this year with 18 goals as he helped Pachuca reach the final of the Clausura championship in May.

Rueda said the younger of two unrelated Valencias in his squad, along with team captain Antonio, had a bright future and qualities to be a success in any of the major European leagues like his namesake who has renewed his contract with Manchester United.

“He has all the merits, attributes and characteristics of an elite player due to his discipline and game intelligence.

“He could adapt to the different footballing cultures in Europe and I’m sure that would be a growth experience for him and a great satisfaction for Ecuadorean football.”

Valencia could one day join the growing number of players from the traditionally less strong teams in the Americas carving out careers in Europe and gaining experience that has helped the likes of Costa Rica to become a sensation in Brazil.

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Image: Enner Valencia of Ecuador celebrates scoring his team's first goal past Noel Valladares of Honduras
Photographs: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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Cameroon's Song banned for three matches

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Cameroon midfielder Alex Song has been banned for three matches after his sending off in their World Cup Group A defeat by Croatia, organisers FIFA said on Sunday.

The midfielder was dismissed for elbowing Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic in the back during the first half of their 4-0 defeat in Manaus on Wednesday which meant they could no longer qualify for the knockout stages.

The Africans, who lost 1-0 to Mexico in their opener, face hosts Brazil in Brasilia on Monday in their final Group A match.

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Image: Alex Song of Cameroon
Photographs: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

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Origi goal merely exposes Belgium's weakness

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Divock Origi was the toast of Belgium after shooting the country into the World Cup second round on Sunday but his 88th-minute winner against Russia could not disguise a lack of firepower that looks set to limit their tournament prospects.

The 19-year-old, who was an uncapped surprise inclusion in Marc Wilmots' squad, came on as a 57th-minute replacement for Romelu Lukaku and secured the 1-0 victory two minutes from time with a clean finish from Eden Hazard's cutback.

A first goal for Belgium was obviously a great moment for Origi, who impressed Wilmots with his pace and movement for Lille this season, but with only five club goals in his first full season of senior football and just a few minutes of international experience under his belt, he looks ill-equipped to lead a one-man strike force through the finals.

Belgium's impressive qualifying campaign helped see them installed as fifth favourites to win the World Cup although their prospects were dealt a severe blow when regular front man Christian Benteke ruptured an Achilles tendon in April, ruling him out of the tournament.

Lukaku became the automatic replacement but he is a different type of player and the sharpness and anticipation that made him look so dangerous for Everton in the English Premier League last season seems to disappear when he is called upon to lead the line internationally.

Belgium look likely to top the group and might find themselves playing the United States, Ghana or Portugal for a place in the quarter-finals.

They certainly have enough midfield quality to create chances against those sides, with Hazard, Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Kevin Mirallas, all looking sharp on Sunday.

Hazard, however, was visibly frustrated that his build-up work had no end-product and the lack of a dominant forward was perhaps behind many of the players' decisions to pepper relatively tame long shots at Igor Akinfeev's goal rather than keep trying to work an opening.

Perhaps the goal will give Origi the confidence to step up a level, and also persuade Wilmots to start him in the final group game against South Korea on Thursday.

But even if he sparkles in that game, it is hard to see him, Lukaku or Belgium really troubling the game's superpowers in the latter stages.

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Image: Divock Origi of Belgium celebrates scoring with Eden Hazard
Photographs: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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Big Phil fumes over 'choosing opponents' comments

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Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari fumed over a suggestion the World Cup hosts would pick and choose their second round opponents, describing the comment as "stupid and ill-intentioned".

Brazil face Cameroon in Group A on Monday needing a point to reach the last 16 where they will face either the Netherlands or Chile, who have already qualified from Group B.

The Netherlands and Chile meet earlier in the day (1600) to decide who finishes first and second, giving Brazil the theoretical advantage of knowing who they would meet if they come top or runners-up.

"Some people expressed a view that we were going to choose who we were going to play. Those sorts of comments are either stupid or ill-intentioned, I repeat stupid or ill-intentioned," said Scolari, raising his finger.

"We have to play to qualify, not pick and choose our opponents. It was FIFA who chose the kickoff time," the man known as Felipao (Big Phil) told a news conference.

Scolari's comments appeared to be aimed at Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal who earlier on Sunday had complained because his side were playing before Brazil in Monday's schedule.

When the matter was raised again by another reporter, Scolari said: "You are putting emphasis on somebody who is talking nonsense."

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Image: Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil
Photographs: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

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Fans will help 'home team' Mexico defeat Croatia: Herrera

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Mexico's legions of travelling fans will carry their team to victory against Croatia and into the knockout stages of the World Cup, coach Miguel Herrera told a news conference.

The Mexican fans are expected to be in the majority when the two teams meet at the Pernambuco arena in Recife in their final Group A game on Monday. Mexico only need a draw to progress to the knockout stages for the sixth World Cup in a row.

"When you hear them sing the national anthem against Brazil, you get goose bumps. That showed that the Mexicans will be heard here tomorrow, and that we will be the home team tomorrow," Herrera said.

The support of the fans has not gone unnoticed by the players, whose family and friends were allowed to visit the final training session on Sunday evening, and there is a strong desire in the camp to make them proud.

"We have had the motivation since we arrived in Brazil," Herrera said. "We're motivated by the fact that tomorrow, we will hear the fans of Mexico very well.

"We have to show our people that we are with them. We will have to do everything possible on the field of play."

The 46-year-old told reporters that he would name an unchanged side from the one that drew 0-0 with Brazil, and that he was unperturbed by reports that Croatia coach Nico Kovacs had a plan to defeat his team.

"You only have to be a cook in order to have recipes," Herrera smiled.

"I believe that these are two teams that like to attack. Tomorrow there is the match, and then for one of the teams there is no more tomorrow," he said. "We will do our best to come back to our camp and train for the next match."

Herrera said that the pressure might be on Croatia to attack, but that the stakes were high for both sides.

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Image: Mexican soccer team fans react
Photographs: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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It wasn't all bad against France, say Swiss

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Switzerland's performance against France was not all bad despite a crushing 5-2 defeat in their second World Cup Group E game, midfielder Granit Xhaka said on Sunday.

"It wasn't all negative," he told reporters at the team's training camp in Porto Seguro.

"In spite of the defeat, some things were positive. We created some chances against a good team. The fact that we were caught out on the break means that we were doing the attacking.

"We played badly in the first halves against Ecuador and France, but in both games the second half was better and now we have to try and play two good halves in the same match," he added.

Switzerland arrived in Brazil brimming with confidence after losing one match in the previous two years and enjoyed a dramatic last-gasp 2-1 win over Ecuador in their opening game.

However, they were brought down to earth by France on Friday, trailing 3-0 at halftime and 5-0 after 73 minutes before Blerim Dzemaili and Xhaka made the score more respectable.

The Swiss are third behind Ecuador, who also have three points, and leaders France with six. They now face a difficult match on Wednesday against a physical Honduras side, who have zero points, in the sweltering heat of Manaus.

"The climate is not up for discussion. We have to produce the same sort of performance that we did in the qualifying (matches)," said Xhaka.

"We are still the small Switzerland but we mustn't hide from anyone," he added.

Dzemaili added: "We have analysed our mistakes and it's very important that we don’t repeat them. This team has shown character when it has needed to and it will do again."

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Image: Granit Xhaka of Switzerland
Photographs: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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Capello still believes after Russia's 'undeserved' loss

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Russia coach Fabio Capello said the 1-0 World Cup defeat by Belgium on Sunday was undeserved and that he still believes his team can progress to the second round.

A Divock Origi goal in the 88th minute gave the Belgians the three points and qualification to the last 16 and left Capello's team with a solitary point ahead of their final Group H game against Algeria.

"To be honest, I am very happy with the performance of the team, the result isn’t fair but the reality is that we lost," Capello told a news conference.

"We had the chances to win, it was a nice game with both teams trying to win unfortunately they were the ones able to do it," added the Italian coach.

Belgium were on top for the opening 45 minutes but Capello said his team had opportunities to win the game that they failed to make the most of.

"We played a large part of the first half on the counter-attack and we had chances, but we made mistakes with the final pass and maybe we also shot a little to hurriedly.

"But in the second half – the team was almost bossing the game, the reality is that when Belgium go forward on the break they are very dangerous," he said.

Capello said his decision to bring on Alan Dzagoev in place of Oleg Shatov with seven minutes remaining was aimed at trying to get a late winner.


Image: Head coach Fabio Capello of Russia gestures
Photographs: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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