It goes without saying that if a team aspires to reach a FIFA World Cup™ finals, at the very least they need to make home advantage count during the qualifying campaign. For many teams, though, this expectation can become a heavy burden and enable visiting sides to plunder vital points.
Ecuador, however, would appear to have no such problem, being the only CONMEBOL nation to have won all their home fixtures so far in the South American Zone qualifiers for Brazil 2014. Moreover, El Tricolor have kept four clean sheets at Quito’s Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa in the course of victories over Venezuela (2-0), Peru (2-0), Colombia (1-0) and Bolivia (1-0), putting them on course to match the six consecutive home wins achieved during the qualifiers for Germany 2006.
Only once before have Ecuador not conceded in four consecutive qualifiers. That occurred during the race for Korea/Japan 2002, although on that occasion it was courtesy of three wins and a draw. Crucially though, both the 2002 and 2006 campaigns ended with Ecuador securing one of the continent’s berths at FIFA’s flagship competition.
“We’re all aware that if we can keep winning in Quito, we’ll be close to our objective – which is obviously to reach the World Cup,” coach Reinaldo Rueda told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
“But there's still a long way to go and we have a tough road ahead. Next up we host Chile, a very tough opponent, and Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay still have to come here. None of them will be easy games,” added the 55-year-old Colombian, in the build-up to the visit of Claudio Borghi’s Roja on 12 October.
Keys to success; unfinished business
So, what has been the key to Ecuador’s home performances thus far? “Keeping possession coupled with dynamism, and the assertiveness to control how games unfold," explained Rueda.
"And while those fixtures were all evenly balanced, we always managed to score at just the right time then see things through once we got ahead. Those things influence our opponents as they know they’ve little margin for error. That said, however, we need to keep strengthening that reputation by our actions on the pitch.”
We had a rather unconvincing start to these qualifiers but we’ve managed to turn the mood around.
His side’s perfect home record stands in stark contrast to their away form, which began with two defeats but finally yielded a point last month in Uruguay. “The inexperience of some of the players starting out in the team is a factor,” said the coach.
“So for me it’s a question of maturing. We lack a bit of cunning, if I can put it that way, to get the job done. But as the players continue to grow I hope to see more results like the one in Uruguay.”
It came as no surprise then to hear Rueda praise next opponents Chile, who, after losing their first two away fixtures emphatically, have won their last two on the road: “Both in Bolivia and in Venezuela, they did exactly what I just said: they focused on the job they had to do and came away with the three points.
"While it’s true they have a flair for attacking, they also counter very well as they have forwards who are pacy and powerful. Our tactical focus will need to be spot on if they’re not to surprise us,” the Colombian continued.
Comparisons and expectations
Rueda, who guided Honduras to South Africa 2010, sees quite a few comparisons between that campaign and his current one with El Tricolor. “That was also a team that grew over time and won almost all their home qualifiers (Editor’s note: they lost just one, against USA), although they also picked up vitals points on their travels.”
The coach also recognises that the 2011 Copa America was a valuable learning process: “Uruguay may be experiencing a little dip in form but they remain a very powerful side.
"Everyone knows Argentina have great potential and they now seem to have found a settled squad," he said. "Meanwhile Colombia, after a shaky start, have made amends on the road for the points dropped at home, where they’ll be very strong from now on. It’s all very evenly balanced.”
And what about Ecuador? “We had a rather unconvincing start to these qualifiers but we’ve managed to turn the mood around,” Rueda said as our interview drew to a close. “We know the team have a lot more to give and we’ll be demanding good performances. What matters is that we stay at this level and meet expectations, because it’s going to be a very tight race right to the wire.”