Netherlands and Ecuador will look to seal their knockout stage spot with a win when they meet at Khalifa International Stadium on Friday evening.
Both teams head into the tie on the back of 2-0 victories. The winner will confirm their tickets to the round of 16 with a game to spare.
Netherlands were heading towards a goalless stalemate in their opening match against Senegal, with the score locked at 0-0 after the 80-minute mark.
The new Dutch sensation Cody Gakpo took advantage of an Édouard Mendy error to put his team ahead in the 84th minute. Davy Klaassen will put the final nail in Senegal’s coffin with an injury team strike.
Louis van Gaal’s men missed the last World Cup, but they made the final and the semifinal in their previous two World Cup campaigns. A win against Ecuador will strengthen Netherlands’ belief of emulating their 2010 and 2014 success in Qatar.
But Ecuador sent out the message that they are a force to be reckoned with when they cruised to an effortless victory over the hosts.
La Tri remained unfazed by the raucous home support and took control of the match right from the kick-off.
Enner Valencia scored a brace within the first half-hour to give Ecuador a comfortable lead. The Latin Americans did not extend their advantage, but they did not let the hosts exert any influence in the game.
Gustavo Alfaro’s men now believe they have a realistic chance of matching their best-ever World Cup run of 2006, when they reached the last 16.
Ecuador are only three points away from making it to the knockout stages.
The Netherlands should present a tougher challenge, but the opening day confidence should propel the Ecuadorians forward.
Memphis Depay had a 30 minute cameo against Senegal.
The forward did not pick up considerable minutes as he fell down the pecking order at Barcelona and struggled with injuries. So, Van Gaal wanted to ease him into the game. We expect him to start against Ecuador.
Vincent Janssen is likely to make way for Netherlands’ highest scorer in the qualifiers.
Van Gaal is unlikely to make any more changes to the starting lineup.
Frenkie de Jong and Steven Berghuis should return to the midfield in a 3-5-2 setting. Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind will operate as wingbacks.
Marten de Roon recovered from injury and made a substitute appearance against Senegal, but the Atalanta midfielder might have to wait longer to return to the first XI.
Ecuador fans panicked at the sight of Enner Valencia leaving the pitch with an injury on Sunday night. But the former West Ham marksman is expected to be available for selection against Netherlands.
There is no confirmed news yet, but the Ecuador medical team is optimistic about his condition.
Michael Estrada could drop out to accommodate Jeremy Sarmiento as Gustavo Alfaro could seek to introduce more attacking threat from wider areas to bypass Netherlands’ five-man midfield.
Both of these teams were great in their first matches.
But we believe the Dutch wingbacks could put Ecuador under pressure from the flanks.
We are expecting a 2-1 win for the Netherlands.