Nickname: La Tri
Schedule: June 15 vs. Switzerland, June 20 vs. Honduras, June 25 vs. France
World Cup History: Round of 16 (2006), Qualified (2002)
Rankings: FIFA (28), SPI (11)
Winning Odds: 125-1
Ecuador is the South American team you won’t hear much about. Mostly because they are the South American team least likely to do damage in this tournament.
Tragedy: Ecuadorean striker Christian “Chucho” Benitez died from a heart attack after a match in Qatar in 2013. The 27-year-old had scored four goals in 2014 qualifying and would have featured up front for Ecuador in Brazil.
Qualifying Form: Ecuador finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying, edging Uruguay for an automatic place based on their +4 goal differential. However, much of that was due to home-field advantage. Ecuador earned 22 of a possible 24 points playing at home, where Quito is 9,350 feet above sea level. Outside of Ecuador, where the World Cup will be played, they took three from a possible 24.
Coach: Reinaldo Rueda. The 57-year-old Colombian has two previous stints as an international coach. He failed to qualify his native Colombia for the World Cup in 2006. He took Honduras, which had only qualified once before in 1982, to the 2010 World Cup. That team departed South Africa with one point and zero goals scored.
Tactics: Ecuador plays a 4-4-2. They are physical, aggressive, spread things out and attempt to counter attack quickly down the wings. That style is great for jumping on teams languishing in the Quito altitude. Under normal conditions, they often look disorganized and ineffective.
RELATED: The Big Lead 2014 World Cup Previews
Player to Watch: Antonio Valencia. The 28-year-old Manchester United winger is Ecuador’s most accomplished club player. He’s not quite the force he was before he suffered a 2010 broken ankle. But he’s still dependable and formidable. The unfortunate thing is his natural game is playing a supporting role. He’s not the type to take over matches and he doesn’t score goals. Ecuador need him to do both.
Squad: Ecuador has four Barcelona players in its 30-man preliminary squad. That would be Barcelona Sporting Club, in Ecuador. The rest of the squad is quite a way down from Valencia. Other “notables” include strike Felipe Caicedo, who scored seven times in qualifying, and 34-year-old Pachuca defender Walter Ayovi. Most of the squad is domestic Ecuadorean players, Mexican league players and a few who washed out in second-tier European leagues.
This Ecuador team is spirited and combative. But they don’t have the skill level to capitalize on it. Ecuador have little presence in central midfield, a dodgy back four and no reliable, top-level goalscorer up front. They can annoy and rattle teams, but are prone to costly mistakes.
Group Outlook: Ecuador has to beat Honduras, then hope to scrape a result against either France or Switzerland and have that be enough to see them through. France has high flame-out potential. Switzerland may struggle scoring goals. Advancement is unlikely, but not inconceivable.
[Photos via Getty]