QUITO, April 28 (Reuters) - There are times when Antonio Valencia flatters to deceive, but more often than not his pace down the right flank proves a telling factor for Manchester United and Ecuador. The 28-year old showed his potential when he scored two goals on his international debut in a 5-2 win over Paraguay in 2006 World Cup qualifying, although he has since netted only eight times in 68 appearances. His darting runs impressed in Ecuador's World Cup run to the last 16 in 2006 and Valencia captained his country to a fourth-placed finish in the South American qualifying campaign for the tournament in Brazil. That secured an automatic berth for the Ecuadoreans who will rely on the versatile winger to direct their quest to reach the last 16 from a Group E also including 1998 winners France, Switzerland and Honduras. Since his move in 2009 from Wigan Athletic to United, Valencia has been used as a right back when injury has intervened or extra attacking thrust was required. He enjoyed an excellent first season at Old Trafford and was included in the PFA Premier League team of the year after being named Man of the Match in United's 2-1 win over Aston Villa in the League Cup final. But he suffered a career-threatening injury in September 2010 when he dislocated and fractured his left ankle against Rangers in a Champions League group match. On his return, he seemed to have lost none of his pace or appetite to take on defenders, and it was no surprise that he agreed a new four-year deal with United in August 2011 after winning the first of two Premier League titles. Valencia underlined his importance to United during a 3-0 win over Olympiakos Piraeus in their Champions League last 16 tie in March. After suffering a badly swollen black eye following a clash of heads early on, Valencia was kept on the pitch until the closing stages as United overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit. Shy and quiet off the pitch, Valencia is reliable, combative and selfless on it, and Ecuador will need all those traits from their skipper if they are to progress to the knockout stages. (Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic, editing by Robert Woodward and Mike Collett)
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- USA TODAY
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