- Hurtado made his Ecuador bow merely two months after his club debut
- 'Bam Bam' appeared in a record 73 World Cup qualifiers
- He played at Ecuador's first two World Cups in 2002 and 2006
Ecuador’s Ivan Hurtado was only 17 when he played his first international, a friendly against Guatemala in May 1992, an occasion he marked by scoring his first goal for La Tri. As notable as that debut was, not even he could have imagined how important a figure he would become in his country’s footballing history.
Not only would he go on to win more caps for Ecuador than any other player – a great honour in itself – he would also break the appearance record for FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, playing 73 in total. It is a record he still holds.
Born in Esmeraldas, the province that has produced many of the country’s finest players, 'Bam Bam' – to give Hurtado one of his nicknames – was regarded as a hugely promising centre-half, having represented Ecuador at youth level from 1988.
What is more, Hurtado’s goalscoring debut with the senior Tri side came just two months after his first top-flight outing with Emelec. The club closest to his heart, the Guayaquil outfit was the starting point of a career that spanned two decades and also saw him perform with distinction for clubs in Mexico, Spain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
A distinguished member of the generation that finally took Ecuador to the World Cup, his role in the national team was far more important than his record of 168 caps. A role model as a footballer, Hurtado also set a high standard as a person.
It was for that very reason that he captained La Tri for many years, leading his country out at Germany 2006, his second world finals, and earning the nickname of El Capi ('Skipper') for posterity.
Hurtado played his first World Cup qualifier a month before turning 19, against Brazil in Guayaquil on 18 July 1993, coming on as a substitute for Johnny Carabli after 66 minutes. He had turned 35 when he played his last qualifier, against Chile in Santiago on 14 October 2009.
Out of the 73 qualifying matches he played in total, Hurtado started 65 and was on the winning side 28 times, with 18 of those matches ending in draws and the remaining 27 in defeat. He scored just the one goal in those qualifiers and was booked on nine occasions, though never sent off.
Following Hurtado in the all-time table are Paraguay’s Paulo da Silva, who is still playing, with 63 caps; Venezuela’s Juan Arango with 58; Peru’s Roberto Palacios with 57; and Honduras’ Noel Valladares and Uzbekistan’s Server Djeparov, who both have 55 caps and counting.
“If I’d ever thought that I was going to end up as the most-capped player of all time in the history of the qualifiers, then they would have said I was crazy,” the record-breaking Hurtado told FIFA.com in September 2015.
“I just could not have imagined that I would end up playing more matches than anyone in such a tough competition,” he added. “I gradually came to understand what they were all about, what it meant to play in a qualifier and to get to the World Cup.
“What’s my clearest memory? The draws against Uruguay that saw Ecuador reach their first two World Cups, in 2002 and 2006, the win against Argentina in 2009, the draw with Brazil that same year, and the 5-2 win over Paraguay in 2005. Those games have gone down in history and in the memory of every Ecuador fan.
“I came up against strikers who’d make you pay for the slightest mistake, stars like Hernan Crespo, Dario Silva, Salvador Cabanas and Ronaldo, who was the best forward I’ve ever marked.
“The South American qualifiers are like the World Cup come early because of the quality of the teams and the players.”