- The majority of Ecuador’s starting XI hail from the same club
- Their familiarity has them primed for success in Brazil
- Captain Joan Lopez: “We have an excellent understanding of each other”
A bond exists between many Ecuadorian players at this FIFA U-17 World Cup that extends beyond sharing the privilege of donning their country’s colours.
Eight who saw the pitch during the team's Brazil 2019 debut are also also rising through the ranks at Independiente del Valle. Located in the Quito suburb of Sangolqui, Los Negriazules have a penchant for surprising South American powerhouses; they outgunned Corinthians to reach the Copa Sudamerica final this year and were shock Copa Libertadores finalists three years ago.
“I think some of our experiences together at Independiente have helped us significantly with the national team,” goalkeeper and captain Joan Lopez told FIFA.com following his side’s 2-1 win over Australia on Brazil 2019’s opening day. “Obviously it has been exciting and inspiring to see the senior team’s strength in reaching a final, too.”
Meanwhile La Tricolor flew off the starting blocks at Goiania's Estadio Olimpico Saturday night, speeding out to a 2-0 lead less than ten minutes into the match. From there it took a cohesive defensive effort to put away the feisty Joeys, who found their footing as the match wore on and caused late trouble with a 90th-minute goal.
Independiente's reputation as fearsome underdogs suits this Ecuador squad nicely. They faced as difficult a path to World Cup qualification as any team during the South American U-17 Championship. Staring down elimination, Ecuador rung up four second-half goals on continental holders Argentina to book passage to Brazil.
Lopez himself even beat the odds to become La Tri’s team leader. “When I was 15 they did not call me in,” he said, “but that didn’t deter me. I kept working and making my game stronger day by day until I received my opportunity.”
Earlier this year Ecuador earned a milestone achievement at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, with Jorge Celico's charges taking home bronze from Poland 2019. It was the first medal Ecuador have won at a FIFA tournament, and it still sticks in the mind of Lopez and his U-17 team-mates.
“Ecuador’s youth players continue to work hard and improve,” Lopez said. “Just look at what we were able to achieve in Poland this year. And we will continue to achieve more.”
This is Ecuador's fifth appearance at a global finals in this category. Their best performances are a pair of trips to the quarter-finals: on home soil in 1995 and 20 years later in Chile. Can this be a breakthrough year for the U-17s, just as it was for the U-20s?
“We have all been working together within the national team for a year now in this cycle,” Lopez said. “We all have an excellent understanding each other and are prepared for whatever comes our way.”