Ecuador have made a speedy recovery since a disappointing first-round exit at the 2011 Copa America, stringing together five wins to restore confidence at the start of what they hope will be a successful push for a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
In the doldrums after defeat to Brazil consigned them to an early flight home in July’s continental championship, La Tricolor regained a spring in their step in recording a hat-trick of friendly wins, two over Costa Rica and one against Jamaica. Further confirmation they were well and truly on the mend came only last month, when they downed Venezuela 2-0 in their opening Brazil 2014 qualifier before posting a 1-0 friendly success away to USA.
The upshot of that five-game winning streak is a rise of 17 places in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, one that has left them 52nd, equalling their second-highest position of the year and only three slots behind their 2011 high, achieved in March. Though pleased to be heading in the right direction again, the Ecuadorians still have some way to go to match their all-time best of 24th, scaled in March 2007
Onwards and upwards
Reinaldo Rueda’s side collected 1624.00 points for their October one-two, 1147.50 for seeing off the Venezuelans and 476.50 for their productive trip to the United States. That tally has made them South America’s highest climbers in the latest Ranking and ensured they made double-digit progress for the first time since November 2008, when they jumped 11 places to 31st, albeit still some way behind their biggest ever leap of 31 positions in August 1993.
Nevertheless, the Ecuadorians have plenty of work to do to recover their stature in the CONMEBOL Zone, where they lie ninth overall, with only Bolivia below them. That said, a brace of good results in their next FIFA World Cup qualifying games, away to 28th-placed Paraguay and at home to 32nd-ranked Peru, will help them close in on their continental rivals.
Picking up points in Asuncion is easier said than done, however, as La Tricolor know only too well. Six times they have visited the Paraguayan capital in qualifiers and six times they have come away empty-handed, their last visit ending in a 5-1 defeat.
Eyes on the prize
The question is: will they break that negative sequence this time? Veteran attacking midfielder Edison Mendez is confident they can: “Anything can happen in football and the team’s been functioning really well lately. We know we can come away with a good result, and we’re going there to win, though a draw would be useful too.”
An altogether less daunting proposition is the home game with Peru, opponents whom Ecuador have beaten five times in ten world finals qualifiers and lost to just the once, in Lima in 1977. Their unbeaten home record against the Peruvians consists of two draws and three wins, one of them posted in Guayaquil and the other two in the capital city, Quito.
Despite that record, coach Rueda is aware of the threat the rejuvenated Peruvians pose. “They’re on a high at the moment and Sergio Markarian has given them some genuine momentum," he said. "They showed that at the Copa America and at the start of the qualifying competition, even though they lost in Santiago. He’s rectified a few errors and got the players to up their game and work as a team, something they weren’t doing before. There’s no doubt they’re enjoying a resurgence.”
Ecuador are making a strong recovery of their own, one they are intent on continuing. Manchester United wide man Antonio Valencia is the most prominent member of an exciting and talented crop that also features Cristian Noboa, Christian Benitez and Jaime Ayovi, who play their club football for Rubin Kazan, America and Pachuca respectively. A match for any side on their day, the Ecuadorians will look to keep on climbing as they bid for a FIFA World Cup finals place for the third time in their history.