The dawn of a new century coincided with a new era in Ecuadorian football, the country suddenly world famous for something besides its geographical location and the Galapagos Islands. Years of hard work behind the scenes had helped propel El Tricolor to a historic first appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ finals at Japan/Korea 2002, swiftly followed by another sortie at Germany 2006.
Yet just a year after Ecuador had established themselves as regular diners at world football's top table, the Copa America Venezuela 2007 was a harsh blow to national team pride. Finishing bottom of Group B at the continental showpiece also proved the worst possible preparation for the subsequent 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Three defeats in their opening three qualifiers, conceding eleven goals and scoring just once in the process, signalled the end of respected Colombian coach Luis Fernando Suarez's time at the helm.
Read on as FIFA.com takes a look at Ecuador's first four qualifying results on the road to South Africa 2010, and asks whether there is still time for El Tricolor to make it three FIFA World Cup finals appearances in a row.
Ecuador 0-1 Venezuela
Brazil 5-0 Ecuador
Paraguay 5-1 Ecuador
Ecuador 5-1 Peru
*The positives * After their disastrous start, Ecuador's first win in the South American qualifying zone was met with optimism and relief in equal measure. Up against fellow strugglers Peru on matchday four, Sixto Vizuete's charges stormed to a comprehensive 5-1 success in Quito to inject life into their qualifying bid and earn the interim coach the job on a permanent basis.
In an echo of previous campaigns, opposing teams still find Ecuador a quite different proposition away from Quito. In two matches on their travels so far, the Ecuadorians conceded five goals on both occasions, scoring just once in reply.
This dismal record, combined with a shock 1-0 home defeat against Venezuela on the opening matchday, ultimately cost previous coach Suarez his job. It remains to be seen whether his replacement Vizuete can find the answer to Ecuador's away-day travails, as well as building on the national youth side's success at the 2007 Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Their finest hour
Ecuador 5-1 Peru
Goals: Walter Ayovi (10', 48'), Ivan Kaviedes (24'), Edison Mendez (44', 62') -Ecuador-; Andres Mendoza (86') -Peru-
The fourth matchday of qualifying saw Ecuador welcome Peru to Quito in a crucial encounter for both sides' aspirations. Pointless thus far and having fallen to a rare home defeat in their previous qualifier in the capital, the pressure was firmly on Ecuador and their caretaker coach Vizuete in his first game in charge. Fortunately, a blockbusting first-half display from El Tricolor's key men quickly put the result beyond doubt, however, and showed the path they must follow to rejoin the world's elite in South Africa.
The key men
Individual highlights were few and far between prior to the Peru game, when Ecuador's most influential figures appeared to rediscover their lost sparkle. Edison Mendez underlined his importance to the team with two goals from midfield, Ivan Hurtado kept things tight at the back and striker Walter Ayovi grabbed a brace as El Tricolor put the Peruvian defence to the sword.
The numbers game
6: The years Ecuador had gone unbeaten in Quito before their 1-0 opening matchday reverse against Venezuela. The previous team to emerge from the capital with three qualifying points were Marcelo Bielsa's Argentina in 2001, goals from Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo sealing a 2-0 success. That result guaranteed the Albicelestes' place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan.
*In conclusion * "The win against Peru was absolutely vital. Now they're the ones who have to pick themselves up whereas we just need to stay on the same track. I worked really hard at improving the players' confidence and the results were there for all to see. I stepped up to the challenge, I stepped up to the national team job and here we've been able to give the whole of Ecuador something to celebrate," Ecuador coach Sixto Vizuete after defeating Peru in Quito.