The night of 2 July 2008 is one few Ecuadorians fans will ever forget. The streets of Quito were awash with jubilant supporters who put aside their domestic rivalries to celebrate Liga de Quito's Copa Libertadores final win over Fluminense at the Maracana. After twice being beaten finalists, an Ecuadorian side had finally triumphed in the continent's premier club competition and could at last stand shoulder to shoulder with their regional rivals.
Despite that achievement, the club's lofty ambitions have not been fulfilled. Far from it. Though still fresh in the memory, Liga de Quito insist the Libertadores success is now a thing of the past and that their focus is on the challenges ahead. With the first and toughest of these, the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008, less than three months away, FIFA.com turns the spotlight on Los Albos and assesses their chances of success.
The Ecuadorian league champions are currently in transition with coach Edgardo Bauza trying to make up for the loss of several key players, most notably Joffre Guerron, the indefatigable attacking midfielder now of Spanish side Getafe. The loss of Dinamita (Dynamite), so-called for his explosive turn of pace, would hurt any team with title aspirations, and Liga de Quito have struggled in his absence.
Complicating matters further has been Enrique Vera's transfer to Mexico's America, which has left a gaping void on the right wing, and a knee injury to Norberto Araujo that could cause the Argentinian defender to miss ten weeks. "We've lost valuable players but we have time to work things out. ," said the Argentinian Bauza.
And the coach would seem right not to be overly concerned just yet. Despite an early elimination from this year's Copa Sudamericana, his depleted side have still managed to qualify for the Ecuadorian play-offs and are confident they can surprise everyone again in December.
When Bauza took up the reins at the club in 2007, the side's prospects were mediocre to say the least. Despite inheriting a squad of good players, the team continued to under-perform, leaving their expectant fans hugely concerned and demanding a change of coach. Fortunately for all concerned, the club directors kept faith in the Argentinian, who would go on to steer the Los Albos to their Libertadores triumph.
For some it might be a case of mission accomplished, but not Bauza. "We're not settling for what we've achieved to date. We know we've earned our place in Ecuadorian football history, but you always want to take it a step further. In our case, that's the Club World Cup," said the coach who was not only feted in Quito's government buildings after the Libertadores win, but was also given a new one-year contact by his club.
As part of their rebuilding process, th club have brought in Reinaldo Navia, an accomplished Chilean striker who had previous spells in Mexico and Argentina. Fans have also been heartened by the form of Franklin Salas, who looks to be back to something near his best. After a brace in his last outing against Universidad Catolica, the winger at last seems ready to fulfil the huge promise he showed a few years ago.
If you then add in forward Daniel Bieler, the evergreen Agustin Delgado, talented midfielder Damian Manso and the experienced Jose Cevallos in goal, you can see why Liga de Quito are dreaming of writing another glorious chapter in their proud history. With the local media speculating that other Ecuadorian clubs will be loaning top players to the Quito side for the trip to Japan, the coach is ruling nothing out.
"Facing teams of the calibre of Manchester United will be no easy task, though it will give my players a unique opportunity to show the world what they can do. Nobody thought we could win the Libertadores either. This group have already shown great intelligence and a willingness to fight, so why not have confidence in them?"