Ecuador enters the Copa America 2011 with the tag of being one of the most unpredictable outfits in the tournament. Despite harbouring players who ply their trade in some of the top leagues in the world, they have yet to fully become a seamless unit in Coach Reinaldo Rueda’s 4-4-2 formation. Coupled with this, La Tri has also been presented with an unfavourable yet unavoidably difficult group having been drawn with Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela.
Nevertheless, Ecuador harbour no real aspirations of winning the tournament as Rueda continues to mould a team that are capable of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, and the lack of pressure could result in La Tri being one of the surprise packages of this summer’s tournament. The Ecuador side under former leader Sixto Vizuete’s direction was probably their most devastating attacking team of recent times, but the least effective one in terms of results and achievements. Rueda must find a balance between such attacking prowess and competent defending to have any hopes of squeezing out of Group B. However, many highly-rated defenders are absent from his final squad, such as Isaac Mina and Jorge Guagua – the latter being ruled out through injury.
The Colombian Coach currently boasts a number of quality players in other positions, however. Edison Mendez, a key figure in the midfield who can score goals, assist and lead others offers invaluable influence on a team containing many internationally inexperienced players. The former PSV veteran is a complete midfielder that knows how to attack and defend (something which has been described as uncommon in many Ecuadorian players). Felipe Caicedo enters the tournament off the back of a successful season on loan at Levante where he managed 13 goals in 27 games, therefore well and truly kick-starting a career which had grown stagnant as he previously languished in the Manchester City Reserves. The other major goal threat comes in the form of Christian Benitez. After also stalling in English football while on loan at Birmingham, “Chucho” returned to Santos Laguna to slam home 20 goals in 35 league matches, making him the top scorer in Mexico’s top division last season. The man charged with providing these strikers with the most opportunities will be Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. With scintillating pace, exquisitely accurate crossing and experience at a top class level, the winger could prove the difference between Ecuador failing and succeeding in Argentina.
Ecuador has a poor recent record in the Copa America, having failed to qualify from the group stages in their last four attempts. Their best recent result came in 1993 when they finished third overall in the tournament. However, there is a reason Diego Maradona mentioned Ecuador when he was talking about other South American teams that could have been in last year’s World Cup in South Africa. Being respected by such prestigious figures in football suggests that La Tri possess enough of a danger to keep more established opponents on their toes, and demonstrates why, in South America at least, Ecuador are never written off.
One to watch – Antonio Valencia: A shy figure off the pitch, winger Antonio Valencia expresses himself with flair and determination on the pitch for both Ecuador and his club, Manchester United. The highest profile Ecuador player of recent times, Valencia recovered from a serious leg break last September to make an invaluable contribution to United’s title success.
Reasco – G Caicedo – Checa – Ayovi
Banega – Mendez – Castillo – Valencia
F Caicedo – Benitez