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France fire blanks, Ecuador eliminated

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Ten-man Ecuador held France to a 0-0 draw at the Maracana on Wednesday but Didier Deschamps' side still topped Group E to progress to a last-16 tie against Nigeria.

Through luck, determination, bad finishing and excellent goalkeeping by Alexander Dominguez, Ecuador resisted even after captain Antonio Valencia was ordered off early in the second half for a studs-up challenge on Lucas Digne.

The result was disappointing for France coach Didier Deschamps but was enough to take first place with seven points and the easier of the possible second-round ties next Monday.

“We came here to qualify and did it finishing top of our group,” said Deschamps. “We didn't have a huge number of chances and their 'keeper made some good saves but it doesn't spoil our joy at being in the last 16.”

Switzerland's 3-0 win over Honduras in the group's other game gave them second place and a tough match against Argentina on Tuesday as Ecuador become the first South American side to be knocked out of this World Cup.

And Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda was left to lament the sending-off of his captain as his team came up just short.

“There is nothing to be done about it now but we lost an important player in our structure,” said the Colombian. “Various refereeing decisions went against us and it was difficult to hold on for a draw but the players showed great character.”

Deschamps made six changes for this game and will certainly bring back several of the missing players to take on Nigeria.

Karim Benzema, scorer of three goals in wins over Honduras and Switzerland, kept his place in the side, but France missed the creativity of Mathieu Valbuena and Yohan Cabaye, the latter absent due to suspension and replaced by Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin.

Les Bleus controlled much of the first half, but only sporadically troubled Dominguez in the Ecuador goal.

The Ecuadorean 'keeper held a crisply struck volley from Moussa Sissoko with 15 minutes played and did well to palm the ball over the bar when Paul Pogba got his head to an Antoine Griezmann free-kick.

Ecuador began to threaten as the half wore on, almost breaking through when Enner Valencia rose above Digne to connect with Michael Arroyo's left-wing cross only for Hugo Lloris to intervene.

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 Messi double ensures Argentina top group 
Ecuador's Walter Ayovi kicks the ball away right in front of France's Bacary Sagna at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday. (AFP/AP)

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