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CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) — When Ecuador and Honduras meet at the Arena da Baixada on Friday, there's every chance they will play in the knowledge that defeat will end all hope of qualifying for the knockout stages of the World Cup.
The two teams face each other in the southern city of Curitiba soon after Group E rivals France and Switzerland finish their second match. Should the two European sides draw, a defeat in the later game would mean certain elimination as Ecuador lost its opening game to Switzerland 2-1 while Honduras slumped to a 3-0 defeat against Les Bleus.
Adding further spice is the fact that the current coach of Ecuador, Reinaldo Rueda, used to coach Honduras, steering the Central American side to its first World Cup finals in 28 years in South Africa in 2010. And his counterpart for Honduras, Luis Fernando Suarez, used to be the coach of Ecuador.
And both are Colombian.
With so many connections, the local fans in Curitiba may be excused for fearing that another stalemate is in the offing after they witnessed the World Cup's first scoreless draw between Iran and Nigeria.
In the first round of games, Ecuador showed far more in defeat than Honduras, which was reduced to 10 men just before halftime after Wilson Palacios was sent off. However, Rueda will have had his work cut out to lift his shell-shocked team. After drawing 1-1, it ended up losing to Switzerland with virtually the last kick of the game.
Rueda hopes his team can make it to the final four, but he will have to get more from his attacking players to get anywhere near that. Felipe Caicedo, who has carried the burden of replacing the late Christian Benitez, who died suddenly from a heart problem last July, was ineffective against the Swiss. However, that was partly due to the failure of Ecuador's wingers, Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero, to trouble the Swiss defense.
Honduras coach Suarez, who led Ecuador to the second round in the 2006 World Cup, has more limited ambitions. This is Honduras' third appearance in the World Cup finals and it has yet to win a game. To do that, it will have to score its first goal in the World Cup finals since Spain 1982, having gone scoreless last time in South Africa.
Though its performance against France confirmed a widely-held view that the team is overly-physical, Suarez defended his men.
"I don't think we crossed the line," he said. "Of course we have a strong and intense style, but we respect the game."
In the absence of the suspended Palacios, others will have to step up. The game could be a chance for the speedy 21-year-old winger Andy Najar to make his mark on the world stage by carving out chances for the likes of Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson.
Though failing to impress against France, the Costly-Bengtson has pedigree, racking up 16 goals in as many qualifiers for the World Cup.
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