Forward competition looms as the Netherlands take on Ecuador at the World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – The battle between Ecuadorian forward Enner Valencia and Dutch forward Memphis Depay could help decide who wins their match at the World Cup on Friday.

The two forwards have different styles – Valencia is stronger and more direct, Depay more subtle and skillful – but are equally important to their teams. A win for either team would take them to six points and move them to the top of Group A with a game to go.

Valencia scored both of his side’s goals in the first half when they defeated hosts Qatar 2-0 in the tournament’s opening match, taking their international tally to 37 and extending their record as La Tri’s all-time top scorer.

Despite missing out against Qatar after suffering a knee injury, coach Gustavo Alfaro says: “Enner will play against the Netherlands, there’s no doubt about that.”

Depay was returning from a nagging hamstring injury and came on in the second half to spark the attack as the Dutch scored two late goals in a 2-0 win over Senegal.

Although Depay could be crucial again from the bench, he is hoping for a starting place from coach Louis van Gaal.

After all, Depay, 28, played a huge role in his country’s qualification, scoring 12 goals and six assists. No other European player had more goals and assists combined.

“He’s a player who can make the difference,” said Van Gaal. “He will want to play but I have to assess his form.”

Depay has an added incentive to start because he needs one more goal to reach 43 international goals.

That would see him trail striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – nicknamed ‘The Hunter’ for his reckless finish – by one place on the national team’s all-time top scorers list. Depay is not far from Robin van Persie’s record of 50.

Depay’s first two international goals came at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Valencia also scored two goals during the competition. None of the forwards played at the last World Cup because their nations failed to qualify.

On the way to this World Cup, their club forms have changed a lot.

Valencia have been in great form for Turkish club Fenerbahce, scoring 13 goals in 12 league games. But Depay’s hamstring problems kept him away for two months, and he made just three appearances for Spanish leaders Barcelona before heading to Qatar.

If Depay isn’t fit enough to start the game at Al Rayyan’s Khalifa International Stadium, Van Gaal is confident he can count on Cody Gakpo, who scored his third goal of the year with the Oranje against Senegal.

He has performed well for PSV Eindhoven this season, scoring 13 goals in 24 games.

“He knows how to score goals and is very agile,” said Van Gaal.

71-year-old Van Gaal said ahead of the tournament that he believed his side could finally win the World Cup after losing three finals. However, he expects a better performance on Friday than when he won the opening event.

“We can only improve,” he said.

Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert, who plays for unheralded Dutch club Heerenveen, made three saves against Senegal on his international debut.

If Enner is in form, he will definitely be back in action.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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