Of the five South American nations set to bid for glory at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, it is Ecuador that arguably have the lowest profile on the global footballing scene. Yet despite La Tri boasting just one prior appearance at the elite competition, at Argentina 2001, Sixto Vizuete’s young charges are determined to belie their underdog status come Colombia 2011.
“Most of this team has come through the ranks together since U-15 level,” the 50-year-old supremo told FIFA.com. “That means they know what they’re doing, which they already proved at the South American championship (in Peru in January/February).
"Since qualifying for the World Cup, we've improved every day and I can sense a lot of togetherness and commitment in the squad. These are things that go beyond fitness, tactics and technique. These lads know they’re good enough to go toe-to-toe with anyone.”
Clearly confident in his players’ ability, Vizuete is more than happy to name names when it comes to his key men: “I’m in charge of a balanced side which has leaders in every area of the field, players who’ve already got enough experience to be able to dictate the tempo of games as required.
“One of those is Edson Montano, who plays for Gent in Belgium, and another is Renato Ibarra who’s just signed for Dutch side Vitesse. And there are other examples I could give such as Dennis Quinones, Marcos Caicedo and Fernando Gaibor, all of whom have only played in Ecuador,” added Vizuete, whose team had the best defensive record at the Sudamericano in Peru.
A jack of all trades
With a graduate’s diploma in Humanities, and being a qualified Physical Education teacher and referee as well as a coach, the versatile Vizuete got his big break when guiding a young national squad to a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Mere months later, the supremo was asked to take the helm of Ecuador’s senior side, which at the time was finding the going tough in 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying.
“That was a great experience and I haven’t forgotten that we were still in the running for a place in South Africa up to the final matchday,” said the strategist, who hails from Guaytacama in the province of Cotopaxi. “When the Football Association appointed me as Head of Development in August last year, they asked me if I could take charge of the U-20s too. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Fortunately we were able to qualify for Colombia, though I don’t see it as setting the record straight after not reaching the senior World Cup.”
Vizuete also feels that the nearly three years spent in the senior national-team hotseat will stand him in good stead for the forthcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup, which runs from 29 July to 20 August: “The work you do isn’t that different, because in many ways these lads are already fully-grown men, who are old enough to be competing at the highest level. That's why it hasn’t been hard working in youth football again.”
Varied challenge ahead
Ecuador will kick off their Group C campaign against Australia in the city of Manizales, followed by clashes with Spain and finally Costa Rica. “We don’t know much about the Australians yet, but in general terms their football has become very European in style. They’ve got very strong players and I can’t see their U-20 squad being any different,” said Vizuete, when asked for his views on La Tri’s section rivals.
“Costa Rica have grown in stature in their region, just as we have in South America, though it’ll be easier to plan for that game because we’ll have already watched them twice. The Spain match, meanwhile, could give us an indication of how far we’re capable of going.”
On that note, the respected strategist ended the interview by stating his squad’s objectives for their Colombian adventure: “We just need to get the tournament underway and see what happens. Nobody believed in us four years ago before the Pan American Games, but the team got on a roll and we won the gold medal.
"We’ve got good players and more experience now, so ideally we’d like to reach the quarter-finals. But if we could make it to the last four, well, that’d be a huge success.”