CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) — A little under a year after the sudden death of star striker Christian Benitez, Ecuador has unearthed a new goal-scoring dynamo.
Enner Valencia's two calmly-taken goals that secured a 2-1 comeback win over Honduras on Friday took his tournament tally to three and put the team in second spot in a group that is likely to be won by France.
Valencia, who plays for Mexican club Pachuca, only consolidated his position in the Ecuador starting lineup after Benitez died from a heart problem last July.
"He hasn't even celebrated a year with us, I think he's grown a lot, improved a lot," Ecuador's coach Reinaldo Rueda said of his new star forward.
Valencia, who is no relation to his captain Antonio Valencia, hopes the "joy" that the win has generated will help inspire the team in its crucial final Group E match against France, which has tallied eight goals and conceded two in a pair of dominating wins.
Ecuador has three competition points, level with Switzerland but ahead on goal difference after the Swiss lost 5-2 to France earlier Friday.
Honduras, which has never won a World Cup match, isn't completely out of contention despite its two losses but it faces an uphill battle ahead of its last group game against Switzerland.
"We still have that possibility, though it is remote and we will fight for it," Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez said.
Rueda praised the Honduras team for its tenacity and expressed the hope that his former charges could do Ecuador a favor by beating the Swiss. Rueda steered Honduras at the last World Cup in South Africa.
Should Honduras beat Switzerland, Ecuador would only need a draw against France to progress to the knockout rounds of the World Cup for only the second time.
The first time Ecuador qualified for the second round was in 2006 and, coincidentally, the team was then was managed by current Honduras coach Suarez.