Soccer-Controversial red card hurt Ecuador in draw - coach


By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 25 (Reuters) - Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda on Wednesday blamed a questionable red card for weakening his team who drew 0-0 with France to become the only South American team not to advance beyond the group stage of the World Cup.

Midfielder Antonio Valencia, Ecuador's captain, was dismissed by Ivorian referee Noumandiez Doue shortly after the start of the second half of the Group E game after a clumsy but not malicious studs-up tackle on French defender Lucas Digne.

"We lost a very important man for our structure," said Rueda, whose contract as coach is now up for renewal, at his post-match press conference at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium.

"It was difficult against France with all the virtues and abilities that team has," Rueda added.

He called for FIFA officials to evaluate the game and determine whether Doue should be allowed to officiate future matches.

Rueda also lamented the team's defeat in its first match of the tournament, a come-from-behind 2-1 win for the Swiss. Had they held onto their lead, he said, Wednesday's draw against France would not have meant elimination.

"That was our breaking point," Rueda said. "It was Switzerland or us."

Rueda, a Colombian who coached the Honduran team in the 2010 World Cup, introduced a host of talented young players who helped Ecuador qualify for the tournament.

He said it would be up to the country's soccer authorities to determine whether he would be kept on as coach.

"It is now for the federation to evaluate," he said. "I think we did a great job."

In addition to France, which finished top the group after winning its first two games, the Swiss also advance to the next stage of the tournament. (Writing by Paulo Prada, Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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