By JASON MITCHELL
There is hot, and then there is Enner Valencia.
Valencia scored both his country’s goals in Ecuador’s 2-1 Group E win over Honduras on Friday. The 25-year-old forward now has three goals in two World Cup matches, and seven goals in six games for Ecuador. He also led Liga MX with 18 goals for Pachuca last season.
But with a loss eliminating his country from the World Cup, Valencia’s second goal on Friday was perhaps the most important of his life.
With the score tied 1-1 in the 66th minute, Ecuador earned a foul just outside the penalty area. Walter Ayovi bent the ensuing free kick into the heart of the 6-yard box, and Valencia rose far above his defender to rifle a header past goalkeeper Noel Vallardes for the 2-1 lead in front 39,224 at Arena Da Baijada in Curitiba, Brazil.
Valencia also equalized for Ecuador in the first half.
In the 34th minute, Juan Carlos Paredes unleashed a hopeful shot from outside the penalty area. His low, driving attempt skipped along the ragged turf and was perhaps deflected before finding Valencia at the far post, who slid for a tap-in goal to tie the match at 1-1.
Carlo Costly had opened the scoring just three minutes earlier, besting defender Jorge Guagua for a long ball dumped out of the Hondurans’ own third before settling with his chest and unleashing an 18-yard shot from the top of the box past goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez.
It was the first goal for Honduras since the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and also ended a 510-minute scoring drought that was just eight minutes short of the World Cup record. The loss drops Honduras to an 0-5-3 all-time record at the World Cup.
At the moment, Ecuador would advance to the knockout stages thanks to goal differential, but is tied with Switzerland on points. On Tuesday, Ecuador faces a French side that has been dominant in its first two World Cup matches, while Switzerland plays Honduras.