Jaimen Ayovi was a wide-eyed 14-year-old when Ecuador made their FIFA World Cup™ debut at Korea/Japan 2002. As he tells FIFA.com, however, the then aspiring footballer’s first memory of the tournament is not El Tri’s opening defeat to Italy but their second game against Mexico, a 2-1 loss.
“I can still remember how thrilled I was when Agustin Delgado scored,” he recalled. “I was excited about us winning the game but it didn’t work out that way. All the same, I realised that day how wonderful it would be to emulate him and score in the World Cup.”
Ten years on, Ayovi believes he is on the threshold of fulfilling that dream. Having honed his all-round attacking skills in a number of positions, the front man, who plays his club football for Pachuca in Mexico, has scored six of Ecuador’s last 15 goals, five of them in friendlies and one in an early qualifying match for Brazil 2014.
“That was the most special goal of all,” he explained, a note of excitement in his voice. “I was a little bit nervous because it was my first competitive appearance for Ecuador, and against Venezuela too, who beat us at home in the last qualifying tournament. No sooner had [Reinaldo] Rueda told me I was playing than I started picturing all these scenarios. Then came the moment we walked out on to the pitch, saw the crowd and heard the anthem. Scoring a goal made it an even more memorable occasion.”
Making the grade
Starting out in football at an early age, Ayovi left his hometown of Esmeraldas for the Ecuadorian capital of Guayaquil in a bid to further his career. After finding a slot with the unfashionable Club de Deportes Paladin, his big break came in 2006 when his cousin Walter, eight years his senior and an Ecuador international himself, recommended him for a trial with mighty Emelec. They liked what they saw.
His first division debut came a few months later, the tall Ayovi starting out as a left-sided forward and impressing with his skill and pace on the ball. Then came a setback, in the shape of a serious knee injury: “They were ten very tough months but it made me stronger mentally.”
I miss the goalscoring a little, but I’m getting used to it. It’s also made me a more rounded player and it’s helped me break into the national team.
After regaining full fitness he was loaned out to provincial outfit Manta FC in 2009. All the indications were that he would stay there the following year. Emelec’s newly installed coach Jorge Sampaoli had other plans, however, and brought Ayovi back to the capital with idea of using him as an out-and-out striker. It proved a masterstroke. Scoring 25 goals in 49 games as Emelec finished league runners-up, the new No9 ended the campaign as the leading marksman and the player of the season.
The start of 2011 brought another switch, this time to Toluca of Mexico, where he occupied a more withdrawn attacking role, one he has also been occupying since arriving at Pachuca six months later.
“To go from being a target man and an out-and-out goalscorer to being more of a playmaker and switching from one side to the other was a big change for me,” said the versatile forward, referring to his ever-expanding skills set. “Sometimes I even end up on the left side of midfield. I miss the goalscoring a little, but I’m getting used to it. It’s also made me a more rounded player and it’s helped me break into the national team.”
Brazil here we come
Though a move to Spain is a future goal, Ayovi is very much focused on the task in hand with Ecuador, for whom he is making an increasingly important contribution. The scorer of the winning goal on his full international debut, a September 2010 friendly against Mexico – also coach Rueda’s first game in charge – the player has since cemented his place and was the only forward to appear in all three of La Tri’s opening games in the Brazil 2014 qualifying competition.
“It’s hard to say if we’re in good shape or not because we’ve had ups and downs,” he said in reference to Ecuador’s start to the qualifiers: two wins and one defeat to leave them fourth in the table. “The good thing is that we’ve been strong at home. Ecuador reached two World Cups on the back of their home form and we’re aiming to repeat that here. We need to learn how to pick up points away as well, though there are some matches where we can play a more open game.”
With their next qualifying assignment coming against Argentina in Buenos Aires in early June, talk of tactics away from home is pertinent: “It’s very difficult to go and take the game to them because they’ve got so many quality players who can hurt you. Maybe the best thing for us to do is to sit back and hit them on the counter. That’s being practical, not defensive.”
Seven days later comes a home date with Colombia: “Any result is possible in Argentina, but we have no option but to beat Colombia. We’re at home and they’re one of our rivals for a qualification place, and if we beat them it’s a big step forward for us.
“Ecuador need to qualify for every World Cup,” added Ayovi, ending our chat on a defiant note. “With the players we’ve got now, it would be a failure for the country as a whole and for me personally. It would be a big disappointment and I don’t think I’d ever be able to get over it. I’m confident though. I can see us making it to Brazil and doing well when we get there.”