The sense of disappointment still lingers. After failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa in 2010, Ecuador returned to the finals in Brazil this summer, and despite being drawn in a tough Group E with France, Switzerland and Honduras, harboured ambitions of a place in the last 16.
In the end, however, results did not quite go Ecuador’s way, and while coming close to qualifying for the knockout stages can hardly be considered as a failure, the tournament marked the end of coach Reinaldo Rueda’s tenure in charge. It was the end of an era that not only saw Ecuador return to the world stage, but also reach their highest ever position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking: tenth position in April 2013.
Being ranked in the top ten in the world is no small feat for a country that has to regularly compete against such heavyweights as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as Chile, Colombia and Paraguay. At the moment Ecuador are ranked 21st in the world, a position that puts the country sixth among CONMEBOL nations.
Considering such tough competition, and the challenges that lie ahead in 2015, such as the Copa America and the start of qualifying for Russia 2018, the next steps will be of vital importance for Ecuador. But there are reasons for optimism, such as the depth of talent available to the new coach, as experienced left-back Walter Ayovi told FIFA.com after the draw against France at the Estadio Maracana that sent Ecuador home. "We have talented players and a solid squad that will aim to qualify for the forthcoming tournaments such as the World Cup. I feel positive about Ecuador’s future," he said.
One of the key decisions that lies ahead is the choice of a new coach. But for now it is a question that can wait. Luis Chiriboga, President of the Ecuadorian FA, explained the reasons for doing so in July this year, when announcing that Rueda’s contract would not be renewed. "With elections scheduled for January, we’ve decided not to name the coach for the Copa America and World Cup qualifying immediately, out of respect for Ecuadorian football’s governing body."
The job has instead been given on a temporary basis to U-20s coach Sixto Vizuete, who managed the senior squad during qualifying for South Africa 2010. Vizuete will be in charge for the upcoming friendlies in September and October.
"There won’t be major changes from the squad that went to the World Cup. I think the players did well, and gained some useful experience,” said the coach, who will now prepare the team for games against Brazil and Bolivia.
For his first squad Vizuete called up 15 of the 23 players who were in Brazil, including Ayovi, goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez, central defender Franklin Erazo, defensive midfielder Christian Noboa, and striker Enner Valencia, who scored three goals at the World Cup.
There were two significant absences from the squad, however: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) and Jefferson Montero (Swansea City). "They asked me not to select them this time because they are in the process of physical and tactical adaptation at their clubs. When they are ready, they will give their all to the national team," said the 53-year-old coach.
During his first spell in charge of Ecuador, Vizuete took over a team that was ranked 56th in November 2007, and left it in 58th place in August 2010. In November 2008, however, Ecuador climbed as high as 31st, one of the country’s best ever performances.
Vizuete was also one of those responsible for the rebuilding process that was required after Ecuador had qualified for the World Cups at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006. As well as Noboa, he has called up three other players who made their debuts during his first spell in charge in the shape of defender Maximum Banguera, defensive midfielder Fidel Martinez, and striker Joao Rojas.
He has also selected a number of youngsters who have emerged in leagues outside Ecuador, such as 20-year-old full-back Leonel Ramirez, who plays for FC Nurnberg in Germany, 22-year-old attacking midfielder Juan Cazares, of Banfield in Argentina, and forward Joao Casas, also 22, who plays for Real Salt Lake in the USA. The transition, it seems, is in good hands.