IAround 18 million people live in Ecuador. If a significant proportion of you are concerned about a single knee, it must be a very extraordinary knee. There was a similar moment in Germany, twelve years ago. Back then, the nation’s calf was the focus of public attention, it belonged to Michael Ballack and it concerned people the way Enner Valencia’s knee now concerns the public in Ecuador.
Valencia is what Ballack once was. The most important player of his team, the captain, the leader of a young team. With the difference that he is also extremely popular with his teammates and his value for the team is much higher. A statistic proves how high. The last time a player whose name wasn’t Enner Valencia scored for Ecuador at a World Cup was longer than Ballack’s calf injury. That was at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Only Valencia have scored since then, in Brazil in 2014 and now in Qatar. He scored all three of Ecuador’s goals and shared the top scorer list with Frenchman Kylian Mbappé. The concerns before the decisive group game against Senegal on Tuesday (4:00 p.m. CET, in the FAZ live ticker for the soccer World Cup and on MagenaTV) could hardly be greater, because Valencia not only scored a goal in every game, he also always had to get injured to be exchanged. While he was able to hobble off the field himself against Qatar (2-0), things looked worse against the Netherlands (1-1). He left the field on a stretcher, but immediately became combative. “Yes, I am injured, but I will also play injured,” he said.
Since then, the situation surrounding Valencia’s health has been opaque. Nothing should leak out. Coach Gustavo Alfaro masters the game with emotions, he repeatedly launches combative messages: “I know about Enner’s knees, but I also know about Enner’s heart. He has a heart for the team.”
Valencia will probably play, but doubts remain. If he plays how long can he last? The knee problems already existed before the tournament, regular training is out of the question. There is no time to rest during a World Cup, especially not for a team like Ecuador, who must not lose in the final comparison in order to reach the round of 16.
“Against Senegal is the last game we could have at this World Cup. We’ll fight to get another one,” says Alfaro. He is sure that Valencia will help with that. No matter what condition.