Can Ecuador take their qualifiers momentum into World Cup 2022?

A look at South American team that looks to overcome its underdog status.

Gonzalo Plata
Gonzalo Plata's return from injury will be crucial for Ecuador's hopes in Qatar. [Ernesto Ryan/Reuters]

Previous World Cup appearances: 2002, 2006, 2014
Titles: 0
Best finish: Round of 16 (2006)
World Cup record: W4 D1 L5
Goals: 10
Biggest win: 3-0 Costa Rica (2006)
Player to watch: Gonzalo Plata
Ranking: 44
Fixtures: Qatar (November 20), Netherlands (November 25), Senegal (November 29)

Before the turn of the century, Ecuador had struggled to make much of an impact on football’s biggest stage.

In 1930, Ecuador’s sports minister turned down an invitation to compete at the first World Cup. The team withdrew from qualification from the 1950 tournament and then failed to qualify from 1962 to 1998.

But the national team has turned things around, having qualified for four World Cup tournaments in the past 20 years.

Although they have continued to struggle in their World Cup appearances, they have won at least one match in every tournament and found themselves in the round of 16 in 2006.

A young team

This year, the team qualified for Qatar World Cup 2022 in style with five home wins and just one defeat, plus impressive draws against Brazil and Argentina.

Argentine coach Gustavo Alfaro, formerly of Buenos Aires super club Boca Juniors, will be looking for Ecuador’s strongest World Cup showing to date despite injuries to Joao Rojas and Robert Arboleda.

Veteran forward and captain Enner Valencia, whose 35 goals is Ecuador’s highest tally, will be leading the charge ably assisted by winger Angel Mena. And in support is a new generation of young players who have been building game experience across Europe, such as 20-year-old midfielder Moisés Caicedo, who made his mark on the English Premier League with 19 appearances for Brighton and Hove Albion.

Also keep an eye out at the back for Piero Hincapié, who has been getting plenty of game time in at Bayer Leverkusen in the top flight of German football.

But the player to watch is 22-year-old Gonzalo Plata. A lot rests on the star winger, who returned to the field in October after suffering an ankle injury.

But if it’s fireworks you’re looking for, look no further than 35-year-old keeper Alexander Domínguez, who managed to get himself sent off during January’s game against Brazil with a flying kick into Matheus Cunha’s neck.

Ecuador play hosts Qatar in the opening game of this year’s tournament and are hoping to spoil the host nation’s party with a win on the first day. With their current form, they’d be understandably disappointed to lose. The Netherlands are likely to dominate their group, but Senegal may offer Ecuador a chance to qualify for the round of 16 for only the second time.

Ecuador has the youngest team at the tournament except for the United States and are hoping youthful exuberance will triumph over experience. Ecuador may be the continent’s underdogs, but they still have plenty of bite.

Source: Al Jazeera