Ecuador came roaring back from two goals down to Peru on Wednesday night, to end the South American thriller in the desert in a 2-2 draw. The two nations from group B dropped four goals in the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Los Incas start the match on fire
The Peruvians entered this match knowing that three points against La Tricolor would guarantee their spot in the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario. The urgency and the determination from La Blanquirroja were obvious as the game started with Peru's all-time leading scorer Paul Guerrero taking a low hard shot from outside the penalty box.
The 32-year-old striker was being chased by two defenders when he received a through ball from Óscar Vílchez from the middle of the pitch. Guerrero wasted no time and blasted the shot heading towards the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
However, the six-foot-four-inches goalkeeper, Alexander Domínguez dove to the ground and made the save to keep the Peruvians off the scoreboard.
However, that attack was just the start of Peru's dominance in the first half. The Peruvians finished the game with nine shots. Five of those chances came within the first 30 minutes. It took the Ecuadorians until the 30th minute to register their first shot of the game.
Christian Cueva, Alejandro Hohberg, Renato Tapia, Edison Flores and Guerrero were causing the Ecuadorians all sorts of trouble. Cueva and Flores pace and creativity were on full display as Los Amarillos were attempting to slow them down.
The breakthrough for Los Incas came early in the game. Guerrero delivered an accurate low pass to a cutting Cueva. The five-foot-five-inch midfielder controlled the ball at the top of the box with his back to the goal.
He quickly executed a spin move with the ball, placing the ball through the legs of the defender to set up his shot. Cueva wasted no time with the few seconds of space his move bought and blasted the ball into the bottom right-hand corner to give Peru the 1-0 lead at the fifth minute.
The Peruvians were just getting started as a few minutes later Flores would double the lead. The second goal started with a set piece from full-back Renzo Revoredo. The 30-year-old defender took the free kick from the center of the field.
He sent a high ball to the top of the box and directly into the path of Guerrero. The captain soared in the air and flicked the ball to Flores who was behind him.
The 22-year-old speedy winger controlled the ball with his back to the goal and Ecuadorian defender Arturo Mina was right behind him. Mina was attempting to use his strength to prevent Flores from turning towards goal.
The winger used his own strength and repelled Mina. He then completed half a turn and tucked the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to give Peru a 2-0 lead in the 13th minute.
A costly miss for Peru
Everything was going Peru's way and they looked destined to increase their two-goal lead. The Ecuadorians were struggling to get a grip of the game and to slow down the swift Peruvian attack. After Peru's second goal at the 13th minute, Revoredo had the golden chance to make it 3-0 at the 23rd minute.
However, the full-back failed to convert the header. Hohberg delivered a dangerous ball from a set piece. He placed the ball right smack in the middle of the box. Revoredo jumped in the air uncontested and was able to get a clean header. The ball was heading towards the upper left-hand corner of the net when it just curved past the post.
Peru's opportunity to take a commanding 3-0 lead before the 30th minute was gone. Going up by three goals might have destroyed the spirit of Ecuador, but the chance was missed and La Tri was still in the game.
The Ecuadorians comeback begins
Less than 20 minutes after Revoredo missed the header, Ecuador got on the scoreboard. A Valencia to Valencia connection happened for La Tricolor. Antonio Valencia started the play with a spectacular chip pass over the Peruvian defense.
The ball was coming down near the penalty spot when Enner Valencia beat the offside trap to be open in the box. The 26-year-old striker controlled the pass with his chest and then blasted the ball into the net to cut the lead to 2-1 in the 39th minute.
Ecuador had taken over the game, and Peru was attempting to hang on to their lead. In the first 30 minutes, Peru was in complete control.
However, after that the Ecuadorians began to respond with the two Valencia's, Jefferson Montero, Miller Bolaños, Christian Noboa and substitute Jaime Ayoví making the back line sweat.
From the 31st minute and onwards, Ecuador outshot Peru 18 to three. The lethal consistent Peruvian barrage had disappeared and there were now solely relying on counters.
Peru was able to enter the half with a 2-1 lead. However, the Ecuadorians had found the weak spot in Peru's defense, and it was Revoredo.
Montero was running circles around him, forcing Peru's Vilchez to bailout the full-back countless times. In result of that, multiple gaps were starting to open in Peru's defense.
In the end, the effort to double team Montero proved to be fruitless since the crafty winger set up the tying goal. Montero timed a run perfectly into the box to beat the Peruvian offside trap with ease.
He received a ball deep in the box. The 26-year-old player brought the pass down with his chest in the heart of the box.
He was quickly confronted by the Peruvian goalkeeper, but Montero kept his cool and crossed the ball to two Ecuadorians who were wide open and in front of the goal. Bolaños simply tapped the ball to tie the match 2-2 in the 48th minute.
The final stretch turns physical and is filled with chances
After the match was tied, Ecuador continued to push for the third goal. As for Peru, they began to bunker in. Ecuador easily could have taken the lead at some point, but Peru's goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was there to make four saves.
The heated history between the two nations began to show as 30 combined fouls were called. Three yellow cards were shown and Ecuador's Gabriel Achilier picked up his second yellow in stoppage time and was given his marching orders.
However, at the very last seconds of the game, Peru nearly took the lead as substitute Raul Ruidíaz almost finished off a fast break in the 92nd minute with an open shot in the box. His shot was heading to the bottom left-hand corner of the net, but at the last second, the ball just curved wide of the post.
Where they stand
The game went on the end 2-2 and now group B is wide open. Peru is in second place with four points and a positive one goal differential. The Ecuadorians are in third with two points.
The Brazilians are in first with four points as well, but they have a positive six goal differential. As for the Haitians, they have been eliminated from the tournament. However, there is still one more game to be played, and all three South American nations can still be eliminated from the Copa America.
Who they face next and how they qualify to the quarterfinals
Ecuador will be facing the Haitians on Sunday at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. For Ecuador, they need to take care of business against the Caribbean nation and they will qualify to the quarters if Peru's loses or ties the game. However, anything less than three points and Ecuador will be out of the tournament.
As for Peru, the safest route for them to secure a place in the knockout stage is to beat Brazil on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Picking up three points will give Peru seven points, which will be good enough for them to win the group.
However, beating Brazil is not really Peru's thing. In fact, the two nations have faced each other 42 times and Peru have only won three games in an 80-year-span and counting.
A draw will be the next best thing for Peru. Peru, are not out of the woods with a draw. Los Incas will finish with five points and will be hoping that the Haitians either beat or tie Ecuador in their final game. If the Ecuadorians win the game, then Peru is out.
However, according to the history books, Peru has only managed to record nine draws against Brazil. So even earning a point might prove to be a bridge too far for them to cross. If Peru loses, they can still advance with four points but Haiti will need to beat or tie Ecuador for the Peruvians to move on.
This draw might have been frustrating for Peru, but it did set up for an exciting finale of group B.