The sudden and tragic death of Christian Benitez last summer sent shock waves through the soccer world and almost derailed the country’s World Cup aspirations, as Ecuador mourned the loss of arguably their most talented and popular player. The 27 year-old striker died from cardiac arrest a day after debuting for Qatari club El Jaish. He played his last game for La Tri in June – a 1-0 defeat to Peru – and Ecuador failed to win their next three matches as the ripple effect stemming from his untimely passing weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of his teammates. Luckily, the nation rallied together and was able to secure a World Cup berth.
Goalkeepers: Maximo Banguera (Barcelona SC), Alexander Dominguez (LDU Quito), Adrian Bone (El Nacional)
Defenders: Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Jorge Guagua (Emelec), Oscar Bagui (Emelec), Gabriel Achilier (Emelec), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona SC)
Midfielders: Segundo Castillo (Al-Hilal), Carlos Gruezo (VfB Stuttgart), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse Arnhem), Cristian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Luis Saritama (Barcelona SC), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Edison Mendez (Independiente Santa Fe), Michael Arroyo (Atlante)
Forwards: Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana), Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Enner Valencia (Pachuca)
Reinalo Rueda’s Ecuador was impressive in qualification finishing third in their group behind Argentina and Colombia. After coaching Colombia and taking Honduras to the 2006 World Cup, Rueda has been around the block before and certainly knows his way around. That experience could prove to be crucial.
4-4-2: (GK) Dominguez – (D) Paredes, Guagua, Erazo, Ayovi – (M) Valencia, Noboa, Castillo, Montero – (F) E Valencia, Caicedo
Group E schedule
June 15: vs. Switzerland in Brasilia
June 20: vs. Honduras in Curitiba
June 25: vs. France in Rio
How they qualified
After a rather inconsistent start in South American qualifying – six points from four matches – a five-game unbeaten run (11 points) built a solid cushion and a sizeable gap between themselves and the trailing pack. Unfortunately, everything unravelled pretty quickly after that and only two points were earned from their next four matches. It went down to the wire, but La Tri eventually secured a World Cup berth through an emphatic victory with one match to spare.
Ecuador’s strength is their use of width. Wingers Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero are fast, powerful runners who can fly up and down the touchline. Valencia prefers to stay on the right and deliver dangerous crosses while Montero prefers to cut inside and cause havoc.
Ecuador’s defensive frailties have been cruelly exposed in recent matches. They conceded four goals in the opening half hour against a weak, second-string Germany team last year and recently shipped in three early goals to Australia in friendly action.
Players to watch
Antonio Valencia: His last two seasons at Manchester United have been poor but he’s found respite with his national team. The Ecuadorian captain is his side’s most talented player – someone they look to for inspiration in crucial moments.
Jefferson Montero: Montero is as capable of playing brilliantly as he is turning in a frustrating performance. Rueda recently asked, “Does he want to play for Ecuador or for Jefferson Montero?” The answer could very well determine Ecuador’s fate.
Christian Noboa: While Valencia and Montero hog the limelight, it’s Noboa who’s emerged as the understated lynchpin of this Ecuador side. His positioning, organization and distribution from a deep midfield position is what makes Ecuador tick.
Will the defence hold up? Ecuador’s defenders have looked out of sorts in recent matches although their 1-1 draw with the Netherlands will raise hope. Walter Ayovi and Jorge Guagua, two starters in the back line, are in their mid-30s. Rueda, a coach well aware of his team’s limitations, should devise a system to ensure that the defenders can last.
Prospects in Brazil
Ecuador’s first game is against Switzerland and since France is expected to win the group, that opening game will essentially set the tone for the tournament. Beat Switzerland and the possibilities are endless. Lose, and getting out of the group stage would require a miracle. Ecuador will be a tough opponent, but look for them to fall short of getting out of Group E.
World Cup history
Ecuador returns to the world stage for the first time since 2006 when they fell to England in the round of 16 from a David Beckham free kick. That 1-0 loss to England is the furthest they’ve ever gone in the tournament. The only other time they qualified was in 2002, when they failed to get out of their group.
• 1930 to 1958 – Did not enter
• 1962 to 1998 – Did not qualify
• 2002 – First round
• 2006 – Second round
• 2010 – Did not qualify
Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States