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Soccer-France aim for top spot, Ecuador hope to survive

Reuters

By William Schomberg

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 23 (Reuters) - France seek to extend their rampant start to the World Cup on Wednesday when they need a point against Ecuador to secure top spot in Group E and further banish the memories of their implosion four years ago.

However, second-placed Ecuador will be desperate to pull off a shock win over the resurgent former world champions as they seek to book their own spot in the knockout stages ahead of Switzerland, who trail them on goal difference, and Honduras.

France lead the group with six points, followed by Ecuador and Switzerland on three points with Honduras bottom with no points after two defeats.

A win or draw for France would mean they will probably avoid meeting Argentina in their first knockout round match.

France coach Didier Deschamps has transformed the national team from the bad boys of the 2010 tournament in South Africa into a side drawing comparisons with the World Cup-winning side of 1998 on home soil.

In contrast to the lack of discipline four years ago, when the players went on strike and France were knocked out in the first stage, Deschamps has stamped his authority on the team, leaving top players on the bench when he sees the need.

Striker Olivier Giroud was surprisingly named as a substitute for their first match against Honduras but returned to the team in style on Friday when he scored the opener and created another goal in the 5-2 rout of Switzerland.

He is likely to retain his starting place against Ecuador.

There could be a recall to the starting 11 for midfielder Paul Pogba who was relegated to the bench against Switzerland after nearly getting sent off against Honduras.

SAME TEAM

Ecuador manager Reinaldo Rueda is likely to field the same team that beat Honduras 2-1 last week and revived their World Cup campaign after a last-gasp opening defeat by Switzerland.

Rueda told Reuters how that 2-1 loss had dealt a heavy blow to his players who are seeking to put Ecuador into the knockout phase of a World Cup for only the second time.

"They were difficult hours for the squad which is a young national team," he said. "I think we felt the naivety that led to the goal and Switzerland's win."

The Swiss caught Ecuador on the counter-attack in stoppage time after winning the ball deep in their opponents' half.

Rueda said he was keeping his fingers crossed that Honduras could pull off an upset and beat the Swiss, who are breathing down the necks of Ecuador in the group.

"Honduras are a team with character, experienced players, and I'm sure they will make it an intense match," he said.

"Let's hope they can take points against the Swiss since that would be important for us as long as we get a good result against France."

The match at the Maracana will showcase some of the most eye-catching attacking footballers at the World Cup.

France, with eight goals in their first two games, are joint top scorers at the tournament so far along with the Netherlands.

France's Karim Benzema and Ecuador's Enner Valencia are among the individual joint top scorers of the tournament with three goals each in two games. (Additional reporting by Rex Gowar; editing by Ken Ferris)

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