By Ross Dunbar
Ecuador have enjoyed a relatively successful recent history in International stage with their two only World Cup appearances coming in the past nine years.
But for a country of just 14 million, they have, perhaps, neither over-achieved nor under-achieved in their 81 years of qualifying for the biggest stage in World Football.
They have strangely become a regular occurrence for those brought up in the recent decade and were participants at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cup’s.
History in International Football:
Ecuador’s turbulent political history could be a factor in the lack of development in football across the country and in 1998, they finally agreed a peace agreement with Peru following almost 60 years of border disputes.
Even in recent months, President Rafael Correa was the victim of attempted coup in September 2010 and the country is finally returning to normality following the mass protests in the capital Quito.
In qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Ecuador finished second in the group and won nine of their 18 matches. The majority of their points came at home in Quito, including beating Argentina and Brazil in the qualifying stage.
Ecuador were drawn with Mexico, Italy and Croatia in Group G and lost to both Mexico and Italy before beating Croatia 1-0 in Yokohama.
The 2002 squad contained many players based in Ecuador but two familiar names were Ulises De La Cruz who was at Hibernian and Agustin Delgado who played his football with Southampton.
Delgado failed to settle in South England and played less than 15 matches for Southampton in his year at St Mary’s. De La Cruz on the other hand, had a very successful spell at Easter Road where he won a move to Aston Villa after the tournament.
Striker Ivan Kaviedes would eventually end up at Crystal Palace following spells at Celta Vigo and FC Porto after the 2002 World Cup.
La Tri qualified for their second World Cup just four years later after finishing third in their group and recorded wins against Brazil and Argentina again in Quito.
Drawn with Germany, Poland and Costa Rica, Ecuador went through to the next round in second place with wins against Poland and Costa Rica in Northern Germany. In the second round, a David Beckham free-kick would be enough to send the minnows back empty-handed.
The 2006 squad, coached by Luis Fernando Suarez, still had the majority of players based in Ecuador but De La Cruz was still at Aston Villa, Ivan Kaviedes was at Argentinos Juniors, a young Antonio Valencia played with Recreativo and both Hurtado and Carlos Tenoria enjoyed short stints in Qatar.
Copa America Record:
Ecuador will be looking for their first ever Copa America triumph in Argentina this summer with the country having a very poor record at this level.
1959 was Ecuador’s best finish for some time when they finished fourth place with the tournament being held in Guayaquil – Ecuador’s most populated city.
They finished fourth again in 1993 with the tournament again being held in Ecuador and reached the Quarter Finals in 1997 for the first time outside their own country.
Since then, the Ecuadorians have failed to get out of the first-round of the competition and their development at the start of the last decade was not enough to push them in to the latter stages of the competition.
In the last Copa America, held in Venezuela, Ecuador lost all three games in the group stages against Mexico, Brazil and Chile.
Domestic football in Ecuador:
The Ecuadorian Serie A was founded in 1957 but was quickly postponed for two years before resuming in 1960 and it has continued until the present day.
The four biggest clubs in the country are Barcelona, LDU Quito, El Nacional and Emelec who have won the majority of league titles since 1960. Barcelona and El Nacional have both won 13 titles each and LDU and Emelec have won 10.
Ecuadorian clubs have had very little success in continental competitions but LDU Quito became South American champions in 2008 when they won the Copa Libertadores.
LDU qualified for the competition as champions of Ecuador and joined Fluminense in the Last 16 after wins against Arsenal Sarandi and Libertad.
The Ecuadorian side beat Estudiantes 3-2 on aggregate to progress to the Quarter Finals where they needed penalties to beat another Argentinian side in San Lorenzo. A goal from Luis Bolanos away to America proved to be the decisive moment in LDU’s qualification for the final with the away goal separating the two teams.
After failing to capitalise on a two-goal lead from the first leg in Quito, LDU lost 3-1 after extra time in Brazil and beat Fluminense on penalties in the Maracana. LDU Quito went on to win the Recopa Sudamericana and the Copa Sudamericana in 2009.
Like the squads in 2002 and 2006, the vast majority of Ecuador’s internationals still play in their home country for the likes of LDU Quito, Emelec and Deportivo Quito.
The Copa America squad has yet to be officially named but the Ecuador national team will participate in three warm-up matches against Mexico, Canada and Greece.
39-year-old Marcelo Elizaga of Deportivo Quito will be the likely first choice between the sticks with 19 caps to his name but faces stiff competition from Maximo Banguera from Barcelona who lost his jersey through a drop in form.
Left-back and captain Walter Ayovi from Monterrey in Mexico has 57 international caps and the 31-year-old made his debut for Ecuador in 2001. Ayovi is an attack-minded left-back who previously was a winger at old club Emelec where he attracted interest from some European clubs. LDU Quito right-back Neicer Reasco, 33, is Ecuador’s other experienced defender with 51 caps to his name after making his debut in 1998.
Central defence could be a problem area for Ecuador with a huge lack of experience in their options for the Copa America. Jorge Guagua has 40 caps but has been ruled out for the tournament through injury. Luis Checa from Deportivo Quito has just nine caps in his International career but the 27-year-old has impressed in recent months and should be a guaranteed starter for Ecuador. Other options include Geovanny Caicedo, Diego Calderon and Juan Carlos Paredes.
The middle of the park is arguably where Ecuador contain the majority of their best players. The midfielders available to coach Reinaldo Rueda are fairly similar dynamic, hard-working and athletic players that will be the heart of Ecuador’s team.
Edison Mendez of Emelec, previously PSV Eindhoven, could reach his 100th cap in the Copa America depending on how they fare in the early stages. Mendez will be joined by Segundo Castillo in midfield and 29-year-old Castillo will be familiar to fans of Everton and Wolves after spending recent loan spells in England. Ecuador have altered between 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 in their recent matches and have a good balance in midfield with Castillo a more defensive-minded player and Mendez the one likely to push forward.
Michael Arroyo, Christian Noboya and Luis Saritama are all attacking midfielders who could be added to the midfield if they decided to play three in the middle.
New hero Antonio Valencia will be Ecuador’s main man in the tournament and he has 45 caps and a wealth of club experience at Manchester United to add to the team. The two other main options in attack are ex-Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo and former Birmingham City attacker Christian Benitez.
Players to watch:
From the right-hand side, Antonio Valencia will offer the whole package for Ecuador. He has the experience to lead by example but will offer pace and guile as well as a hard-working attitude that will prove necessary against technically-superior opposition.
Valencia has been one of Manchester United’s best players this season and was involved in the UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona in May.
Edison Mendez will most definitely be another important figure for Ecuador. The former PSV midfielder should reach 100 caps after the three warm-up matches in May and June. The 32-year-old is Ecuador’s set-piece specialist and will take free-kicks, corners and penalties for the team. He has an excellent range of passing and has complemented Segundo Castillo well in recent internationals.
Twitter – @rossdunbar93