RIO DE JANEIRO – Gp E: Ecuador 0, France 0 

—- France could not maintain their prolific start to the World Cup but still finished top of Group E following this goalless draw which left Ecuador as the only South American side not to make it through to the secod round.

Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema and Loic Remy went close as the much-changed French were frustrated by an Ecuador side who had captain Antonio Valencia sent off.

But after impressive victories over Honduras and Switzerland, a point was enough to send Les Bleues through to the last 16 and a meeting with Nigeria in Brasilia on Monday.

They may be concerned that elbows thrown, out of sight of the referee, could lead to disciplinary action against Olivier Giroud and Mamadou Sakho.

Manager Didier Deschamps made six changes to his starting line-up and, while France lacked a finishing touch, they looked as well organised even without Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Morgan Schneiderlin.

France seemed to be playing within themselves and clear-cut openings were scarce. Paul Pogba’s header was tipped over the bar by Alexander Dominguez and Moussa Sissoko volleyed straight at the goalkeeper, before Enner Valencia drew a sharp save from Hugo Lloris at the other end.

Red card

The match became more stretched after half-time and Griezmann’s volley was pushed on to a post by Dominguez before Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia was dismissed for a late challenge on Lucas Digne.

Ecuador responded positively, Cristhian Noboa wasting a glorious opportunity after Enner Valencia’s break, but France then showed more energy and cranked up the pressure.

Pogba had a powerful drive blocked, Blaise Matuidi was denied by Dominguez after a neat exchange with Benzema and Pogba somehow missed with a free header from close range.

Lloris was forced to repel Alex Ibarra’s strike before Dominguez thwarted Benzema, who linked well with substitute Olivier Giroud but could not score his 10th goal in nine international appearances.

Giroud, fellow replacement Loic Remy and Pogba all tried to force a winner, only for Ecuador to hold the 1998 champions to a stalemate that will give them little cause for concern.