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World Cup 2014 Expert Interview: Ecuador relying on experience, Antonio Valencia, and more

As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.

Ecuador World Cup Interview

For this interview, focusing on Ecuador, we spoke to Brian Maxwell. Co-Founder of southamericanfootball.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter @MaxwellSAF

Reinaldo Rueda has been criticised for his rather defensive approach to game. But with Ecuador being the inferior team, surely that has to be the sensible system to employ. What exactly can we expect from Rueda in terms of his tactical philosophy?

I think Rueda will continue to be pragmatic. Not only was the death of Christian Benitez a devastating blow to dressing room morale, but his ability to drop wide or deep allowed Rueda much more tactical flexibility. It’s the paucity of defenders with any degree of class which will ultimately determine the 57-year-old’s tactical thinking, however.

Frickson Erazo’s bewildering loss of form is Rueda’s greatest worry. In the recent 1-1 draw with Holland both Erazo and centre back partner Jorge Guagua looked incredibly vulnerable around the edge of the penalty box. After the game Rueda took heart from the protection afforded to the pair by the hard-working midfield partnership of Cristian Noboa and Segundo Castillo. In attack, the South Americans are heavily reliant on flashes of brilliance from wingers Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia. Both wide men are tasked with supplying Felipe Caicedo, who appeared frustrated and isolated without his strike partner Benitez in the final four qualifying games.

Plenty of players in the Ecuadorian national team are less travelled and have opted to play professionally in one of the two American continents. Is this due to a lack in quality among the players or an advert for the Ecuadorian domestic league?

Sadly I think it’s the former. Like Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores is the sole barometer in determining a league’s quality in South America. In 2008 LDU Quito secured the Primera Categoria Serie A’s first and only Libertadores title. Ecuador remain second last on the Libertadores honours list with one title, ahead of Peru who have yet to win a continental club title.

That LDU side, with tactical mastermind Edgardo Bauza at the helm, displayed many similarities to the current national side. Like Bauza, Rueda is a strong-willed disciplinarian who likes his teams to break fast down the flanks on the counter-attack. Ecuador’s domestic game is far from South America’s best, but as LDU demonstrated in the Libertadores six years ago, it’s the belief the players have in the coach’s tactical set-up and system which wins games, not the standard of the league.

While the Ecuadorian side does lack comparative quality in all areas of the pitch, where do you see the goals coming from? Midfielder Mendez is the current top scorer in the side, not one to be depended upon for goals. So is Caicedo the man they’ll look to?

The pressure on Caicedo will be immense and it’s on his broad shoulders the responsibility falls. Fearing a lack of first team football before this summer’s tournament, the former Man City striker demanded Lokomotiv Moscow sanction a loan move to Al Jazira in the January transfer window. But the stats make grim reading for Ecuador fans. Following Benitez’s tragic death, La Tri managed just three goals in their final four games, compared to 17 in 12 before, with half those goals coming from the fruitful Benitez-Caicedo partnership.

Most South American teams might find it beneficial to play a World Cup in the continent, taking advantage of the conditions but Ecuador have found it hard on their travels in qualifying, not winning a single one and losing five of their eight away games. Will the apparent advantage be negligible for Ecuador then?

I think Ecuador’s previous experience of playing in Brazil awards them a slight advantage over Ghana and Switzerland. Late to arrive at football’s top table – making their World Cup debut just 12 years ago – Ecuador have qualified for three of the last four tournaments. Despite the aforementioned poor away record in qualifying, a first appearance at a World Cup on continental soil should give them the confidence to surpass their previous second round best.

Antonio Valencia is possibly the best player in Ecuador’s squad but he too is coming from a less than impressive season with Manchester United. Can Ecuador still depend on an out-of-form captain?

One of the few surviving players from the 2006 squad, Antonio Valencia is undoubtedly Ecuador’s key player. Not only is he revered within the squad for his role at Manchester United, Rueda holds him in the highest regard as a leader.

Immediately after Chucho’s death, with the squad still in shock, Rueda installed the 28-year-old as captain at the expense of a vastly experienced Walter Ayovi. “It was hard on Ayovi,” admitted Rueda, “but Valencia was the closest to Benitez. They were like twins. Making him captain was a way of rallying the group. It ended, from a psychological point of view, a change that gave us a boost in the final straight.”

On the pitch, Valencia also offers his coach tactical flexibility with his ability to tuck inside and play in a midfield three behind the striker.

We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Cristian Ramirez & Carlos Gruezo from the Bundesliga catch our attention. Will they have a role to play in the side? What sort of impact can we expect?

With a combined total of three caps, these German-based prodigies should be content with a place on the bench given Rueda’s reliance on experience.

France are the clear favourites of the group, but Switzerland too could prove to be worthy dark horses. Qualification is not going to be easy, but it’s certainly not as hard as some of the others have it. What are your realistic expectations of Ecuador this World Cup?

Without a marquee player like Vidal, Suarez, Falcao, Neymar or Messi, Ecuador are the least fancied of the six South American nations competing. However, I predict Rueda will have garnered enough experience from his outing with Honduras at the last World Cup to lead Ecuador to the coveted second place, behind group winners France.

Read all our World Cup Interviews here, and all other WC2014 related content here.

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