RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — France’s much-vaunted attack missed a series of chances as it drew 0-0 with 10-man Ecuador to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup on Wednesday, while the South Americans bowed out of the tournament.
In the other final Group E game, Switzerland defeated 3-0 Honduras to finish in second place behind the French.
France, which ended with seven points, had scored eight goals in two games and 39 in its previous 11. But the finishing on Wednesday lacked sharpness against a spirited Ecuador side which threatened all game on the break.
“I’m proud of what the players have achieved,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “We didn’t take our chances, but that takes nothing away from our joy. We had to be vigilant against an Ecuador side that was quick and looked dangerous even with 10 men.”
A win would have given France three group-stage wins for the first time since 1998 – the year it won the tournament on home soil. That looked odds-on after a 3-0 win against Honduras and a 5-2 rout of Switzerland.
“Some people thought we were the kings of the world,” Deschamps said. “But all matches are difficult. Argentina had a difficult match against Nigeria (winning 3-2). These are high intensity matches and it’s difficult to qualify.”
France next faces Nigeria on Monday.
“It’s a huge satisfaction to finish top, but it’s not over,” Deschamps said. “Nigeria is a solid and quick team, so it will be a very hard match.”
Striker Karim Benzema did well again in his link-up play but should have added to his three goals so far.
“We did well in front of goal in previous games. We had chances but their goalkeeper made some good saves,” Benzema said. “I hope we put them away against Nigeria.”
Ecuador’s chances, meanwhile, were hindered at Rio’s Maracana stadium after Antonio Valencia was shown a straight red card in the 50th minute for raking his studs down the leg of left back Lucas Digne.
But Ecuador may feel upset that France center half Mamadou Sakho was not shown a red card in the eighth minute when he appeared to elbow Oswaldo Minda in the face during a France corner.
“It’s true that I’m a tough player but I respect my opponents,” Sakho said.
Then, in a late incident off the ball, France forward Olivier Giroud jabbed his elbow in to Gabriel Achilier, who was standing behind him.
“Some of the decisions made by the referee did not favor us,” Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “It’s quite regrettable what happened. I believe this is now in the hands of the committee that assesses the behavior of referees. This was not the ideal behavior in many split decisions. I don’t think it’s worth going into that now.”
Deschamps says he “did not see” the incident with Sakho because the “coach’s bench is a bit low.”
Knowing his side was all but assured of advancing, Deschamps made six changes to his starting lineup, but it upset the balance and his new-look defense looked shaky, although the forwards still combined well.
France came closest to scoring when Antoine Griezmann hit the post in the 47th but the goals did not come, despite the hype generated after the Switzerland match.
An inspired Ecuador went close in the 82nd when substitute midfielder Alex Ibarra broke down the right, cut inside center half Raphael Varane, and saw his powerful strike beaten away by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
“It is very tough to play for almost half the match against such a great team, and be a man short,” Ecuador forward Enner Valencia said. “But we almost won.”
Moments later, Benzema played a one-two with Giroud but stroked a casual shot that goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez easily saved.
Dominguez had an outstanding match, denying substitute Loic Remy with a brilliant leaping save in the 87th minute.
Giroud should then have scored in injury time but planted a free header straight into his hands, while Ecuador’s last chance came from a corner as France defended desperately.
Ecuador: Alexander Dominguez; Jorge Guagua, Frickson Erazo; Juan Paredes, Cristhian Noboa (Felipe Caicedo, 89), Walter Ayovi, Oswaldo Minda, Antonio Valencia, Michael Arroyo (Gabriel Achilier, 82), Jefferson Montero (Alex Ibarra, 63); Enner Valencia.
France: Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, Mamadou Sakho (Raphael Varane, 61), Laurent Koscielny, Lucas Digne; Paul Pogba, Morgan Schneiderlin, Blaise Matuidi (Olivier Giroud, 67); Antoine Griezmann (Loic Remy 79), Karim Benzema, Moussa Sissoko.