Ecuador hope to get seven games

There are seven games in the World Cup,” says Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda, “and I want to reach the seventh” – bold words which express the confidence of a country that has taken huge strides in recent times.

Less than 30 years ago Ecuador were little more than a Latin American footballing version of Luxembourg; now they have reached three of the last four World Cups. Last time out, in 2006, they belied their reputation as altitude specialists by beating Poland and qualifying for the second round, where they went down to England. If they can do that in Europe, what might happen on their own continent?

More players have international club experience since then, and the current team is physically strong with plenty of pace and skill down the flanks. But games are won and lost in the penalty areas, and here Ecuador’s confidence takes something of a battering. They managed just 20 goals in 16 qualifiers – scoring only five times away from home.

Opportunities were being created, but as Rueda lamented last November: “We’re failing in the last metres. At this decisive moment we are lacking precision, and we have to improve.”

With seven goals, centre-forward Felipe Caicedo was comfortably the team’s top scorer in qualification, though three of those came from the penalty spot, so his patchy form this year is a cause for concern.

There are also grounds for alarm at the back where Rueda is struggling to replace Ivan Hurtado, the classy centre-back who held Ecuador’s defence together for 15 years, and his giant partner Giovanny Espinoza. Jayro Campos, the best of the current crop, is an injury casualty, while centre-back Fricson Erazo has had such a disastrous time at Flamengo of Brazil that he scarcely gets on the bench. Without him, Ecuador went three down to Australia during a catastrophic first-half display in a March friendly, before striking back to win 4-3 after Rueda made some much-needed changes at the interval.

“We’ve had problems in this sector,” admitted the coach. “It’s no use trying to cover up the sun with our hands.” He will hope that, with time on the training field, he can patch up
 a defence that will give sufficient cover to carry Ecuador out of their group.

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