From Valencia to Rio: World Cup Preview - Ecuador

Ecuador are in a funny place heading into this World Cup. Their own “Golden Generation” that took them to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups are aging, retiring or have retired and, while they have some exciting young talents, the shocking death of Christian Benitez nearly a year ago has left them short up front.

Despite all of this, they have managed to make it to Brazil this summer and here is how they match up:

Qualification

Ecuador scraped into an automatic qualifying place for Brazil in the long and arduous South American qualifying tournament by beating Uruguay to fourth via goal difference. Led by veterans Segundo Castillo and Edison Mendez, the 7 goals of Felipe Caicedo was bettered only by Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Radamel Falcao. Aided by goals from the late Chucho Benitez and Jefferson Montero, Ecuador’s home record was near perfect with a 1-1 draw with group winners Argentina the only blot on their record. Yet, as good as their home record was, their away record was as bad with no victories picked up on the road and only three points away from Ecuador although one of those points was an important and impressive draw in Uruguay. Built on a strong defensive effort, Ecuador had a defensive record bettered only by the top two Argentina and Colombia but goals were rare to see as they fired the fewest out of all the South American qualifiers. Don’t expect Ecuador games to be high scoring affairs this summer.

Squad

Colombian manager Reinaldo Rueda has named a 30 man provisional squad which is a very, very experienced one indeed. A large number of the squad have a substantial number of international caps under their belt with only four uncapped players – Carlos Gruezo, Angel Mina, Cristian Penilla and Armando Wila – named in the squad. 35 year old former PSV midfielder Edison Mendez is in the squad along with Manchester United man Antonio Valencia and ex-Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo who will be the main goal-getter for Ecuador. Followers of La Liga will also note that former Villarreal winger Jefferson Montero has made the cut. Here is the full squad:

Goalkeepers – Maximo Banguera (Barcelona SC); Adrian Bone (El Nacional); Alexander Dominguez (LDU Quito)

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Defenders –  Gabriel Achilier (Emelec); Walter Ayovi (Pachuca); Oscar Bagui (Emelec); Frickson Erazo (Flamengo); Jorge Guagua (Emelec); Jhon Narvaez (Emelec); Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona SC); Cristian Ramirez (Fortuna Dusseldorf)

Midfielders – Michael Arroyo (Atlante); Segundo Castillo (Al-Hilal); Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart); Renato Ibarra (Vitesse Arnhem); Fidel Martinez (Tijuana); Edison Mendez (Independiente Santa Fe); Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA); Cristian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow); Pedro Quinonez (Emelec); Luis Saritama (Barcelona SC); Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

Strikers – Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana); Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira); Angel Mina (Emelec); Jefferson Montero (Morelia); Cristian Penilla (Barcelona SC); Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul); Enner Valencia (Pachuca); Armando Wila (Universidad Catolica [Ecuador])

Key Players

Felipe Caicedo

With Christian Benitez’s tragic and untimely death, ex-Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo has been thrust into the role of main goalscorer for Ecuador. Only 25, Caicedo has played at the highest level in England and Spain and is the only Ecuadorian striker in the squad that can say that. His goal record is not the greatest at club level but his seven goals went a long way to securing a place in Brazil for his country. Ecuador really need Caicedo to be firing on all cylinders in Brazil otherwise they will struggle.

Jefferson Montero

Former Villarreal winger Montero has been on fire in Mexico and is one of the main creative forces for Ecuador. His speed and skillful dribbling from the left complement captain Antonio Valencia’s strengths and Montero offers something unique to Ecuador’s attack. He is the type of creative player that Ecuador need to fire on all cylinders in Brazil so that Caicedo and others can get the goals needed to keep them in the tournament. That’s not to say that Montero doesn’t contribute goals as he found the net three times in qualifying to help Ecuador get through. If Montero is on form during the World Cup, there will be very few who can stop him and Ecuador will have a good chance of getting out of a tough Group E.

Segundo Castillo

The experienced head Castillo is a veteran of the 2006 World Cup where Ecuador made it to the second round. His primary role for Ecuador is to protect their backline and his experience and leadership qualities will be needed desperately in Brazil when coming up against the likes of Shaqiri, Ribery and Benzema to name a few. A veteran of a number of teams in Europe including Wolves, Everton and Red Star Belgrade, Castillo will have to be on top of his game in the middle of the park to give Ecuador a chance of progressing in the tournament.

Possible Starting XI

Ecuador’s possible starting eleven in Brazil is a very experienced and solid one. Felipe Caicedo serves as the focal point of the side and will be called upon to provide a goal threat while holding the ball up and bringing others into play. He will have the exciting Joao Rojas – a player compared to the late “Chucho” Benitez – playing just behind him and looked upon as a creative key for the side. The right wing is patrolled by captain Antonio Valencia whose work rate will protect Juan Carlos Paredes at right back while Jefferson Montero on the left will be a danger with his pace, skill and creativity aided by the experienced Walter Ayovi at left back. The holding duo of Cristian Noboa and Segundo Castillo is experienced and good enough to protect the back four while also setting Ecuador on the attack with their passing. The centre back duo of Frickson Erazo and Jorge Guagua is experienced, tough and dependable and will give any striker a tough time while Alexander Dominguez will continue as number 1 for Ecuador.

Prediction

Ecuador have been given a tough group to get out of. Group E is going to be a tough one for them and I think they will probably just miss out on getting to the second round by either goal difference or a point or two. However, if they can get good results against France and/or Switzerland they may have a chance but I cannot see it happening and they finish third in Group E but head home with some positives with a win over Honduras.

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