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Ecuador performances show football's global 'evolution', says coach Alfaro

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Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro on Monday said his side's strong showing at the 2022 World Cup was proof of 'a big evolution' in international football. AFP

Ecuador performances show football's global 'evolution', says coach Alfaro

Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro on Monday said his side's strong showing at the World Cup was proof of a narrowing gap between football's traditional powerhouses and the chasing pack.

Ecuador sit level on points and goal difference with the Netherlands at the top of Group A and need only to avoid defeat against Senegal on Tuesday (at 10pm) to secure a last-16 place.

"[I can] see an evolution – a big evolution – from the teams," Alfaro told a pre-match press conference.

"Before there was a very marked difference between the favourites and the rest, but suddenly we are seeing evenly matched games.

"This is how growth works – the growth of Asian football, African football, South American football."

Ecuador cruised past hosts Qatar 2-0 in the World Cup curtainraiser, before drawing with the Netherlands 1-1 despite outplaying the European giants for much of the match.

The South Americans will top the group if they avoid defeat and better the Netherlands' result against Qatar.

They have only once before reached the knockout phase, losing 1-0 in the last 16 to England in 2006 when David Beckham scored a free-kick.

"One of the strengths of Ecuador is that we were able to transform the things we need to transform," said Alfaro. "We needed to grow up.

"We kept our physical skills and our natural skills, but we knew we needed to do things differently because there are other national teams that are doing things better than us."

Star striker and captain Enner Valencia, who has scored each of Ecuador's three goals in Qatar, is struggling with a knee injury but Alfaro expects him to play.

"He has a knee sprain, but he has a big heart and he wants to be in every battle for our national team," he said.

Alfaro, 60, promised the team would "try and play the best World Cup in Ecuadoran history", while emphasising his side's "great future" in the game.

"We respect the pecking order, but we do not need to be fearful. We are creating our own pathway."

Meanwhile, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse on Monday urged his players "not to overthink" their World Cup showdown with Ecuador, knowing they likely must win their final group game to reach the last 16.

Senegal bounced back from an opening loss to the Netherlands by beating hosts Qatar, but the African champions are a point behind the Dutch and Ecuador going into the last round of Group A matches.

"We understand that winning will allow us to continue the adventure and that's what we want to do," Cisse said, praising Tuesday's opponents Ecuador as "a beautiful team".

Senegal were eliminated in the group stage in 2018 on fair play rules after finishing level on points with Japan.

Cisse, who took over as Senegal coach in 2015, said his side was keeping a "cool head" and promising "not to overthink the game" despite the weight on their shoulders.

"We are OK, we are dealing with pressure and stress. For me it is good stress.

"We are working day in, day out. I have been working with my players and we have been working for years to get to the World Cup," said the former Paris Saint-Germain and Birmingham City player.

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