The focus is on Group E today, and having already looked at European representatives France, we now turn to their South American counterparts Ecuador.
A solid qualifying campaign saw Ecuador avoid the South American play-offs and automatically qualify for this year’s World Cup, ending up in fourth place in their conference. Participating in just their third-ever World Cup, Ecuador will be cautiously optimistic of progressing from a less-than-easy group in their continent’s Mundial.
Qualification: W 7, D 4, L 5
Previous World Cup appearances: 2
Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Current FIFA ranking: 26
Coach: Reinaldo Rueda earned his stripes coaching the Colombian youth teams, leading the U20 side to third place at the 2003 World Cup, and the U17s to a fourth place finish in the U17 World Cup. Rueda was the coach of Honduras at the World Cup in 2010, but stepped down having been widely criticised after his side failed to progress from the group stages. He will definitely hope to go further in Brazil.
Captain and Key Player: Ecuador wide-man Antonio Valencia will be his country’s star-man as they look to progress further than their Round of 16 finish in the 2006 edition, having not qualified for the South African edition four years ago.
The Manchester United winger, who joined the Premier League side five years ago, is a strong and hard-working player for both club and country. He is deployed predominantly as a right-winger, blessed with an abundance of pace and a direct approach which has foiled opposing defenders for years.
Valencia has been widely praised for the quality of the crosses he hits into the box, but has equally been criticised for often complicating things and not delivering the ball early enough. Yet his speed and athleticism, as well as his ability to help out his side defensively, makes the 28-year-old a valuable member of any squad.
The midfielder made a dream start to his international career, bagging a brace on his debut against Paraguay in 2005. He featured in all four matches for his country at the 2006 World Cup, and was short-listed for FIFA’s Best Young Player of the Tournament award.
Valencia played in all but one of Ecuador’s 16 qualifying matches for this year’s World showpiece, as the South American nation finished fourth in their conference, thereby directly qualifying for Brazil 2014. Valencia’s experience at international level will be key as Ecuador hope to spring a surprise at this year’s event.
Key fixture: All three points against Honduras is a must should Ecuador harbour any hope of progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament.
15 June, 18:00 Switzerland vs Ecuador
21 June, 00:00 Honduras vs Ecuador
25 June, 22:00 Ecuador vs France
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