After La Tri's Kevin Rodriguez twice forced debutant goalkeeper Joe Gauci into making strong saves, the hosts took the lead in the 16th minute when Craig Goodwin ricocheted a shot off the post and straight to Brandon Borello, who finished first-time into an empty net. Like two of Australia's goals in their 3-1 win last Thursday, however, replays indicated that the presence of VAR likely would have ruled the goal out for offside.
Perhaps fortunate to further down after Piero Hincapie escaped a penalty after clattering into Riley McGree late on in the first half, the visitors forced their way level in the 50th when Rodriguez burst forward, completely wrongfooting marker Thomas Deng and won a penalty when the defender dragged him down, which was duly converted by Pervis Estupinan.
Increasingly dominating, Ecuador completed the comeback In the 65th when Junior Sornoza sent in a corner that William Pacho met with a darting run and brilliantly placed header.
1. Ecuador get physical
Back in 2020, the Socceroos were supposed to take part in the Copa America as a guest, only for the COVID-19 pandemic to dash those hopes. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but Ecuador gave them a bit of an insight into the beatings that they missed out on. The visitors displayed a willingness to get amongst it in the opening game of the two-game series in Sydney last Friday but took it to another level in Melbourne. This was aided by referee Chae Sang-Hyeop avoiding the use of his whistle for both sides -- albeit he couldn't ignore Deng's foul to give away the penalty.
Whether this approach was by design or thanks to some pointed encouragement from new coach Feliz Sanchez since their defeat, Ecuador consistently looked to get bodies on their opponents throughout the game, menace them off their game and, according to the ref at least, stayed the right side of the line. This was combined with a level of comfort on the ball that allowed them to dictate the tempo as the contest wore on, never appearing threatened once they took the lead. By the end of the game, their midfield was running all over their green and gold counterparts.
As much as they pride themselves on physicality and pressing, the latter of which did show promise yet again in the first half, it was an important lesson for a young Australia lineup confronted with opposition just as willing, and better suited on the night, to make things a battle.
2. Rodriguez puts on a show
Rodriguez had never started a game for Ecuador before Tuesday evening, making two one-minute cameos off the bench during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but his performance against Australia certainly gave Sanchez plenty of reasons to consider giving him a few more in the months ahead.
The attacker, who recently signed with Independiente del Valle in the Ecuadorian top flight, was a menace at Marvel Stadium and forced Gacui into a fine save in just the fourth minute when he got on the end of a long throw-in and drove central. Just under 20 minutes later he bullied Deng off the ball before blasting an attempt that Gauci was just able to deflect away for a corner, which in turn led to a headed chance for Felix Torres.
On another night and with a less sharp keeper, Rodriguez would have had at least one goal. Nonetheless, he eventually got some reward when he slipped Deng's attempts to challenge him with a casual, almost disdainful ease, and prompted the defender to drag him down for a penalty duly converted by Estupinan.
3. Lessons to learn for Australia
The good vibes for Australia from four days ago certainly took a hit, but the 2-1 margin of defeat wasn't a humiliation. Despite being second-best in Melbourne, they can take heart from a 4-3 win on aggregate across the two legs against a side that qualified from the crucible of South American qualifying during the previous World Cup cycle. Australia coach Graham Arnold was certainly keen to take up that line after the game.
There are clear lessons to be learnt, however; especially the circumstances that led to the side being overrun during the second half in Melbourne. But these should be welcomed. A loss can lay bare the limitations and challenges that a side faces better than any win can, and after the positive feelings that have been swelling around this team ever since their surprising run at the 2022 World Cup, Tuesday should be seen as an important reminder. Australia are still a small fish swimming in a large ocean filled with many predators possessing very sharp teeth. They can and need to be better.
Positively, Alex Robertson, Aiden O'Neill, Gauci, and Jordy Bos all debuted during the series; Guaci staked a claim to become Mat Ryan's primary backup in goal; 24-year-old Harry Souttar did little to dissuade any notions that he's a future captain of the side during a standout performance in Sydney. Meanwhile, Garang Kuol netted an important confidence boost with his first international goal in Sydney after a confronting start to life on loan with Hearts.
The first two games of the 2026 World Cup cycle are now in the books, Arnold can now start to build upon the highs, lows, positives, and negatives of the past week in their efforts to improve.
Best and worst performers
Kevin Rodrigues, Ecuador: A man-of-the-match performance up front. Physically bullied the Socceroos' defence and won the penalty that tied the game up.
Joe Gauci, Australia: Neither of Ecuador's two goals was his fault as he staked a claim to become Ryan's backup in years ahead.
William Pacho, Ecuador: A strong presence at the back throughout the evening and put his side ahead with a magnificently placed header.
Thomas Deng, Australia: Had a torrid time against Rodrigues, dragging him down to give away the penalty and was subbed off by Arnold soon after.
Australia's midfield: Difficult to single out a single culprit given that the unit as a whole was overwhelmed and overrun during the second half.
Highlights and notable moments
Borrello put the Socceroos ahead early on.
BORRELLO OPENS THE SCORING! 🔥— Paramount+ Australia (@ParamountPlusAU) March 28, 2023
The @wswanderersfc star scores his first @Socceroos goal after finishing off some brilliant build up play from Craig Goodwin
🇦🇺 #AUSvECU 🇪🇨 is live now on Paramount+ 📺 pic.twitter.com/ive1QQZZGC
Rodriguez won a penalty that Estupinan converted to equalise.
ECUADOR ARE LEVEL!!— 10 Football (@10FootballAU) March 28, 2023
Deng fouls Rodriguez, and Estupinan rockets the penalty shot in past!! @Socceroos 1 - 1 #Ecuador
Watch live and free now on 10 Bold & 10 Play!!
📺: https://t.co/5sz6nEQ49B #AUSvECU pic.twitter.com/QwB4VlqwGB
Pacho headed Ecuador into a lead they wouldn't surrender.
After the match: What the players/managers said
Australia coach Graham Arnold on the series: "Overall, if there's one big lesson we learned tonight, for the young boys, was the physicality of the game and the speed. These types of things are great learning experiences for the players. We could have played a weaker team and won 6-0, 5-0. But would we have learned?
Australia defender Milos Degenek on the physicality: "At different stages throughout the game we should have asserted ourselves a bit more in that physicality. We should have been a bit stronger -- especially when we play at home; they've come to us and we need to show them that this is our home ground, we need to be just at times just a bit more intelligent and stronger. That shows that they've got a little bit of experience and they've got a little bit of that street knowledge, which gets them through games. It's that South American school that South American countries have."
Ecuador coach Felix Sanchez on his first series: "It was a good first camp for us to meet the players, to train with them and get to know them individually. It was two good games for us, we played against a tough team. We have only one FIFA window before the start of qualifiers. I think the group is a strong group and we have commitment, which will make things easier - our work to implement what we want. I'm pretty sure they will be able to do it."
- Joe Gauci became Socceroo 631, Jordy Boss Socceroo 632, and Jackson Irvine the team's 63rd captain in the defeat.
- Per Football Australia historian Andrew Howe, Tuesday evening was the first time a Socceroos featured four players (Borrello, Gauci, Goodwin and Riley McGree) born in Adelaide in a starting XI.
- Ecuador lead the all-time series against Australia 2-1, but it's tied 7-7 on aggregate.
Australia: The Socceroos have three more international windows -- June (with what Arnold has said will be an experimental squad), September and October (one game locked in against England at Wembley) before AFC World Cup qualifiers start in November and the Asian Cup commences in January.
Ecuador: Ecuador start 2026 World Cup qualification against Argentina and Uruguay in September.