Ecuador 1-1 Argentina
11 June 2013
World Cup Qualifier
Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito
Scorers: Aguero, Castillo
Argentina survived another tough World Cup qualifier challenge and retained the UFWC title in this nervous encounter with Ecuador in Quito. A 1-1 draw means Argentina remain in top place and Ecuador remain third in the WC qualifying table – and Argentina remain Unofficial Football World Champions.
Without the suspended Gonzalo Higuain and Pablo Zabaleta, and with Lionel Messi on the bench following injury, Argentina reverted to a more conservative 5-3-2 formation, with Rodrigo Palacio partnering Sergio Aguero up front. And it was Palacio who won a 4th minute penalty, which was coolly taken by Aguero to give Argentina the lead.
Ecuador, with Felipe Caicedo up front, and Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia attacking from the wings, responded well. The impressive Montero won a free kick in the 17th minute, from which Segundo Castillo rose to head an equaliser past Sergio Romero.
Aguero and Angel Di Maria both went close to regaining the lead for Argentina, and Valencia headed over the bar for Ecuador, as both sides pressed for another goal before half time.
In the second half, Ecuador increased the pressure on the Argentina goal, creating a couple of good chances, and claiming a penalty – which the referee refused to award.
Argentina responded by introducing Messi with 30 minutes left to play. Even short of full fitness, Messi’s presence was enough to worry Ecuador into retreat, with neither side looking likely to score a winner in the latter stages.
There was one more incident of note when, in the 86th minute, Javier Mascherano was bizarrely sent off for kicking the driver of the stretcher cart that was taking him from the pitch for treatment. Riot police were involved amid angry scenes as Mascherano was dragged away by team-mates. It was a lively end to a disappointing second half, and the game ended 1-1.
Coming up next for Argentina is a third UFWC title match within the space of just over a week. This Friday, 14 June, Argentina travel to Guatemala for a friendly match that could represent a tricky test for the UFWC champions. Guatemala are ranked only 81st in the world by FIFA, and have never previously participated in the UFWC. Argentina seem unlikely to risk the injured Messi in such a game. Without the Messi effect, could Argentina come unstuck?
As something of an incentive, if Argentina do hold on to the unofficial title, the next UFWC title match would see them play Italy. The alternative scenario is that Guatemala join the list of highly unlikely Unofficial Football World Champions. As regular followers will know, anything is possible in the UFWC.
In terms of World Cup qualification, today’s result was good news for Ecuador, who remain in a strong position as the race to reach Brazil 2014 really hots up. The odds on Ecuador winning automatic qualification have shortened, while group leaders Argentina remain almost certain to qualify, and will be among the favourites to win the tournament once it gets underway.