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France draws Ecuador to top Group E

Jul 10, 2014 - 1:22 AM Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ( - France secured top spot in Group E on Wednesday by getting a 0-0 draw with 10-man Ecuador at the Maracana.

Les Bleus, who entered the final match of the group stage with six points from their first two matches, were a virtual certainty to reach the knockout round thanks to their emphatic wins against Honduras and Switzerland.

Needing only a draw to lock up first place, France neutralized the attacking threat of Ecuador, which had been reduced to 10 men following Antonio Valencia's straight red card in the 50th minute.

La Tri, unable to conjure a goal, finishes third in Group E to become the lone South American nation to miss out on the knockout round.

"We're in the last 16, which was our objective. It's going to take more than a draw to stop me from feeling happy about that," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "I made a lot of changes for this match, but the objective was the same. We did everything we could to score, but you can't win every match 3-0, and while I know we weren't quite as effective as we were against Switzerland, Ecuador are a very fine side who have a lot of pace up front. All the same, it's good that we didn't concede. I'm overjoyed, thrilled and very satisfied. There's a whole new competition starting now for us. We're going to savour the moment and then focus on Nigeria."

The first half of Wednesday's affair offered little in the way of scoring opportunities, but the best chance fell to Ecuador in the 41st minute when Enner Valencia connected on Michael Arroyo's cross with a powerful header, but Hugo Lloris managed to deny the Pachuca striker.

France emerged from the intermission and nearly grabbed the lead within two minutes of the restart when Bacary Sagna's low cross was turned on frame by Antoine Griezmann, but Alexander Dominguez pushed the attempt onto the post to allow Ecuador to clear the danger.

Ecuador's task of claiming a win was made more difficult in the 50th minute when Antonio Valencia was sent off for an vicious sliding challenge on Lucas Digne.

But La Tri managed to produce a gilt-edged scoring opportunity just four minutes later when Christian Noboa got through on goal only to send his attempt horribly wide of the post.

"It's been a very short tournament. We've paid for our bad performance against Switzerland at the start, knowing that we were going to be finishing off against France," Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda said. "We tried to play our best football, but my players have had a long season and didn't arrive at the World Cup in the greatest shape. The matches have been very tight, but we just haven't been able to tilt them in our favor. Maybe we should have played with a bit more freedom against the Swiss."

Paul Pogba spurned a tremendous chance to preserve France's unblemished record in the group stage when he got on the end of Moussa Sissoko's cross from a short corner kick in the 73rd minute, but the Juventus midfielder sent his header just inches wide of the post.

France produced a few more half-chances in the closing stages of the match, but with Switzerland cruising to a 3-0 defeat of Honduras in Group E's other fixture, both sides eased off the pedal to finish scoreless at the historic Maracana.

Les Bleus will return to action in the round of 16 on Monday against Nigeria, which finished as runner-up in Group F.