Considered mere also-rans for many years, Ecuador are now one of the leading candidates when it comes to the South American qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup™.
La Tricolor, who only made it to the finals of a FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in 2002, have not only appeared in the last two editions of the tournament but also racked up three wins and some invaluable experience in the process.
The common denominator in their last two FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns is that on both occasions they secured their passage to the finals on the penultimate matchday. In 2001, when the Colombian Hernan Dario Gomez was still at the helm, they even finished ahead of the mighty Brazil, who had to make do with third place after losing, among other fixtures, away in Quito. La Tricolor, with Luis Suarez by then in charge, would also enjoy a home win against the Pentacampeão en route to Germany 2006, although in that campaign they would have to settle for a third-place finish in the South American Zone.
At the finals themselves, Ecuador have proved fast learners. At Korea/Japan 2002, when many observers felt they would be happy just to savour the experience, Gomez's side lost out narrowly to Mexico (1-2) and Italy (0-2), before recording a memorable 1-0 win over Croatia in their final game. With the experience and confidence garnered from their adventure in the Far East, they began working towards qualification for Germany 2006. However, the shift from one campaign to the other was not altogether seamless, with the team first having to come through a challenging transitional period.
Gomez stepped aside to allow compatriot Luis Suarez take up the reins after a poor performance at the Copa America Peru 2004. The challenge given to the new coach was to bring order and direction to a team in transition, and he achieved that and more. Not only did he steer Ecuador to their second consecutive FIFA World Cup, but he took them into the knockout rounds with group wins over Poland (2-0) and Costa Rica (3-0). A slip-up against hosts Germany (0-3) left La Tricolor with a difficult last-16 assignment against England, a game they would eventually lose 1-0 to a David Beckham free kick - though not before almost confounding the experts with an equaliser. With their heads held high, Suarez's men returned home, knowing they had been part of a watershed moment in their country's football.
The confidence they built up didn't last long. After a disappointing Copa America in Venezuela and a horrid start to qualifying - losing their first three games - Suarez stepped aside and was replaced by Sixto Vizuete, coach of the country's Panamerican Games gold-medal winning U-18 side. With a new coach and renewed hope, Ecuador rebounded to beat Peru 5-1, but only time will tell if that improvement will continue.