In football, a stable environment can make all the difference. For Oswaldo Minda, it has become the principal virtue of an Ecuadorian national squad of which he is an integral part.
The stability comes in the shape of Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda, who has been in charge since August 2010, and who recently retained his position despite facing a barrage of criticism following a disappointing 2011 Copa America campaign.
The man who guided Honduras to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was confirmed in his role by the Ecuadorian FA, and has "reaped the benefits of the painstaking work that we’ve all put in together,” as Minda, who plies his trade for MLS outfit Chivas USA, put it to FIFA.com.
“We went through a difficult transitional period during which the coach encountered numerous issues,” said Minda, who received his first international call-up back in 2008.
“The supporters just want results and don’t really want to hear excuses about rebuilding the team. And so the coach was jeered by the public and the media, who were demanding his head. Even within our governing bodies, there were calls for him to go. But the President has always supported him and had confidence in him. The team was therefore able to mature gradually, and that’s really started to pay off,” continued the midfield man.
Currently sitting second in the South American qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, La Tri boast a five-point lead over Venezuela, who lie fourth.
Absent from South Africa 2010 and eliminated at the first-round stage one year later at the Copa America in Argentina, the Ecuadorians have been in impressive form since the beginning of the qualifiers, winning five times and drawing twice in nine matches. “This team is possibly the best we’ve ever had,” he said.
Teamwork and mental strength
“We’re in sparkling form. We’ve not qualified yet, but it’s already an honour just to play in this team. Everyone agrees that it might well be our greatest ever,” said the three-time winner of Ecuador’s Primera A league (with Deportivo Quito).
“We’ve faced adversity in the past and have a highly talented group of players. When our teamwork and mental strength are at their peak, we’re a very solid side,” he added.
Despite having two FIFA World Cup appearances – in 2002 and 2006 – under their belts, Ecuador have not shone anything like as brightly at the Copa America, having suffered early exits in the competition since 1997. This time, in order to transform the jeers into cheers against the odds, Rueda’s charges decided to take matters into their own hands.
“It was just before a friendly against Costa Rica, after the Copa America,” recounted Minda, a year and a half after the event.
“Due to the pressure and the criticism aimed at the coach, the team felt really unstable, mentally speaking. We organised a meeting, as we didn’t want the coach to take all the blame or to have to deal with the consequences of bad results. From that moment, the mindset changed. Our aims were not only to stand up for Rueda, but also to unify our people around the national team, and to make them proud of it.”
Strongly favoured to book their berth at Brazil 2014, Antonio Valencia, Christian Noboa and Co must now live up to heightened expectations. Paraguay’s visit to Quito on 26 March will go a long way to demonstrating if they can.
But according to Minda, who recently scored for Los Angeles-based Chivas USA on the second matchday of the new MLS season, this additional pressure has not caused any great worries in the dressing room.
“There’s pressure before every match when you play for the national team,” he pointed out. “Our objective is to conserve that hunger we have, and remain focused on the task at hand. The fact that we’ve been through some tough times has been hugely helpful to us – now we’re accustomed to facing challenges.”
Whether he is granted a place in the starting line-up or asked to fulfil the role of impact substitute, Minda is likely to be involved in some capacity when La Albirroja comes calling. In spite of some disappointing displays for the club that he joined last season, the former Emelec player has remained in the national coach’s thoughts.
“He knows what I bring to the team and that he can play me in several different positions, just like he knows what the team needs and how I fit into those plans,” he said.
If Minda can indeed fit into Rueda’s plans, and help to ensure Ecuador’s qualification for Brazil 2014 in the process, an entire country will be eternally grateful to him.