Ecuador may not be one of South America’s more illustrious footballing countries, but they have done well to become almost World Cup regulars in the last few decades. With the focus on teams from the continent doing well in the first South American World Cup in 36 years, Ecuador might see this year as a chance to go far in the competition but they have a tough group and could well end up taking the short flight home early.
Ecuador’s Footballing History
Ecuador was one of the last South American countries to step into the world of international football, despite an invitation to the inaugural tournament in 1930 and the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. Their Copa America attempts have been consistently poor, never making it past the quarter-finals in a 12 team tournament.
Time and again Ecuador struggled to get close to qualifying for the World Cup until 1998 when CONMEBOL changed their qualifying procedure to the single league structure they have today. They came four points short of qualifying then, unable to get the points they needed in the last rounds to make it into the top four.
2002 saw Ecuador’s first appearance, after coming 2nd to Argentina in qualifying. They finished bottom of their group in Japan, which included Italy, Mexico and Croatia. Ecuador made it again in 2006 and qualified for the last 16 behind group winners Germany but lost 1-0 to England, with a David Beckham free kick being the difference between the sides.
Ecuador’s Road to the Finals
Ecuador took the final South American qualifying spot in their league on goal difference ahead of Uruguay. Ecuador went through their campaign unbeaten at home but didn’t manage a win on their travels either. They perhaps owe their place at the finals to Uruguay’s leaky defence, which managed only two clean sheets in qualifying.
Ecuador’s final games of qualifying were played in a sombre tone due to the death of striker Christian Benitez at the age of just 27 from cardiac arrest. In their first and only home qualifier following Benitez’ death, Ecuador effectively sealed their place in Brazil with a 1-0 win over Uruguay. After the game, coach Reinaldo Rueda dedicated the win to Benitez.
Ecuador’s Key Players
Antonio Valencia of Manchester United is Ecuador’s captain and will be the key player in their side. As one of the quickest wingers in the world, he will pose a threat to the full-backs of opponents and will be looking to provide crosses for striker Felipe Caicedo.
Another player to watch on the other wing is Jefferson Montero who has scored regularly for his country in recent years including a well-taken finish against Holland in a recent friendly. After a long spell in Spain with top teams such as Villarreal, he currently plays in Mexico with one of the top sides Monarcas Morelia but has been linked in recent months with a Premier League move to Swansea.
Ecuador are in a group alongside France, Switzerland and Honduras. Both European sides are ranked among some of the best in the world, and will be likely to qualify, but Ecuador will be hoping to provide an upset and take a spot in the last 16 as they did in 2006.
Their first game is against Switzerland on the 15th of June (5pm, ITV) with the next game against Honduras on the 20th (11pm, ITV) a real chance to pick up points in the group. Ecuador close out the group stage on the 25th of June against France (9pm, ITV).
As much as Ecuador would love to make it to the knock-out stages again it’s going to be a tall order beating either France or Switzerland for it. They are a good attacking side, but the French and Swiss defence should be able to handle what’s thrown at them if they have hopes of beating the top sides in the tournament. Ecuador could well be the kingmaker by holding another team to a draw, but they likely won’t be able to put themselves through.