When qualification for the 2022 World Cup began in September 2020, Ecuador was ranked last but one in South America, only ahead of Bolivia in the FIFA ranking. That didn’t matter though, and after a topsy-turvy campaign, they had collected enough points to outpace heavyweights Colombia and Chile as well as Peru, who was at the party four years ago.
They may be unheralded, but as a matter of fact, Ecuador has only lost once in the past year, and that was to Paraguay; they went undefeated against Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Nigeria, and Japan, just to name a few. 60-year-old Argentinian coach Gustavo Alfaro has done well in what is his first stint with any national team.
How do they play?
With a history of tricky wingers, Ecuador has stayed true to playing through the wings, and more often than not, an attack will be launched out wide. Their crossing success is above average, but they also earn a lot of corners.
While they can attack in multiple ways, their defense is also quite sturdy, having allowed just 19 goals in 18 games. However, of the 19, five were from penalties, and the 35-year-old first-choice goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez has made a fair share of blunders.
Why they can win?
South American teams are always dangerous, having overcome top-quality teams in qualifying. Ecuador stands out for having a lovely mix of experience and youth, with captain Enner Valencia leading the way and a lot of young talent in European top leagues. Starting things off against hosts Qatar will be seen as a platform to build on.
Why they can lose?
Ecuador booked tickets to Qatar on impressive home form, registering five wins and just one defeat on home soil. Away games were a challenge though with just two wins in nine games. They also lack players in their prime. It might be too much, too soon for the younger generation, who won bronze at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.
The leading stars
Goals will be expected from 33-year-old captain Enner Valencia, who is now scoring for fun at Fenerbahce after time spent with West Ham and Everton. He was on fire eight years ago in Brazil, scoring three goals in a group where Ecuador was left third after France and Switzerland, and has been turning back the clock this season, with ten goals in nine league games for the Turkish giant.
The fresh faces
22-year-old Valladolid winger Gonzalo Plata, who won the Bronze Ball at the aforementioned Under-20 World Cup, might make the headlines. Watch out for 21-year-old Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo, 20-year-old Bayer Leverkusen center-back Piero Hincapie, and several other bright young men as well. Ecuador has one of the youngest teams at this World Cup.