Ecuador 1, Uruguay 0
Ecuador Montero 30'
Level on points with Ecuador but trailing on goal differential, Uruguay headed into Friday night's match looking for a win that would leapfrog them into fourth place in South American qualifying. After spending much of the year with their World Cup hopes on life support, that a win in the second last match of CONMEBOL's round robin could move them into an automatic qualification berth and assure them of at least finishing fifth and making it to the intercontinental playoff against Jordan was something of a surprise.
Ecuador, though, weren't going to be pushovers—not at home at least, with Uruguay's hosts having gained 19 of their 22 points in qualification at elevation in Quito. They took the game to Uruguay early on, limiting the visitors to the odd break on the counter. Striker Enner Valencia looked particularly dangerous for Ecuador in the early going, the final outlet for long spells of patient buildup that looked to stretch and tire Uruguay's defenders. Fernando Muslera was equal to the task for a time, stopping quality chances for Valencia and then Jeferson Montero.
After 30 minutes, the pressure finally broke Uruguay as Montero tapped a low, driven cross from Antonio Valencia into the open goal. It was no more than Ecuador deserved on the run of play, and they headed into the break with a 1-0 lead. When it arrived, the second half saw more if the same, with Ecuador dominating possession and Uruguay attempting to play a counter game that never looked likely to draw them level, with passes going astray and attackers increasingly looking to go it alone against multiple defenders.
Though Ecuador may not be a threat to win the World Cup, at home they're a frightening proposition, and Uruguay had no gameplan to cope with going a goal down at altitude. Despite only leading by a goal—with a second wrongfully disallowed for offside—the victory never seemed in doubt for the hosts once they went up, and it means Uruguay now need a victory over Argentina, Ecuador to lose to Chile, and a combined five goal swing on Tuesday to avoid the international playoff. If results go the wrong way for them, they could even find themselves once again at risk of falling to sixth behind Venezuela.