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May 28, 2014

32 Teams in 32 Days: Ecuador

La Tricolor and Antonio Valencia will be hoping to recreate their past World Cup form and upset Group E favourites France and Switzerland.

Group E | Switzerland | France | Honduras


Team DNA

Ecuador's main strengths are on the wings, so it's little surprise that their attacking play will be focused in wide areas.

Ecuador uses a 4-4-2 formation at times and a 4-3-3 lineup at others, but the emphasis is always on moving the ball to Manchester United's Antonio Valencia on the right wing and Monarcos Morelia's Jefferson Montero on the left.

After former line-leader Cristian Benítez's tragic death last July, Felipe Caicedo is likely to be the first-choice forward. The squad will play a pacy, counter-attacking game, but defence will be vital. Ecuador scored the fewest goals of any of the South American qualifiers but allowed just 16, giving them the continent's third-best defence behind Argentina (15 goals allowed) and Colombia (13).

Christian Noboa's nous in midfield will also be vital to Ecuador's hopes, while 34-year-old team captain Walter Ayoví's experience will be key on the defence.

Starting scenario

History

This will be Ecuador's third World Cup appearance. They previously qualified in 2002 and 2006, when they reached the Round of 16 in Germany and went out after a 1-0 defeat against England.

How they reached Brazil

Ecuador qualified for Brazil thanks to spectacular form at home. In Quito, they only failed to win one match, and that was a 1-1 draw against an Argentina side that was on an unbeaten run that eventually extended to two years.

But Ecuador didn't manage a single victory away from home; they drew three and lost five. Of the home wins, probably the most vital were a 3-1 win against Chile in October 2012, a 4-1 rout of Paraguay in March 2013 and a 1-0 win over Uruguay in the penultimate round of qualifiers that took them over the line.

The numbers never lie

Calculating a nation's passion for the game based on how well it pays its manager, attends its games and gets out to play:

Key battles

If Ecuador make it beyond the group stage, they might face Argentina, which would certainly represent a highly prized victory -- if they can pull it off. They'll have one encounter with interesting history even if they don't make it out of the group, though.

Ecuador's second match against Honduras on June 20 in Curitiba is going to have a bit of extra flavour to it, in a good-natured way. Ecuador's Colombian manager, Reinaldo Rueda, managed Honduras four years ago in South Africa, where they finished at the bottom of a group that included Chile and eventual champions Spain. Honduras' current boss, Luis Fernando Suárez, also Colombian, is the man who managed Ecuador to their second-round appearance in 2006.

Most important player

Considering Ecuador's use of width, the wingers will need to play a huge role in creating goals if they are to get beyond the first round. Valencia's pace, strength and direct running on the right will be complemented from the left by Montero's two-footedness. This allows him to act as more of an inverted winger when needed on the other side in a 4-3-3 or to mirror Valencia's more traditional wing style in a 4-4-2.

Montero, just 24 years old with a three-year spell in Spain already under his belt (he was on Villarreal's books but was loaned out to Levante and Real Betis as well), made his Ecuador debut back in 2007 at age 18. He has impressed for Monarcas Morelia in Mexico since 2012 and will see this World Cup as a chance to make his mark on a global stage for the first time.

Definition of success

Given their dreadful showings away from the altitude of Quito, Ecuador's hopes can't be high compared with the other South American nations. They likely face the least amount of pressure, though, and might consider the group draw of Switzerland, France and Honduras as kind as they could have hoped for.

- Video: Ecuador odds in World Cup (Australia only)

In light of their history and struggles when playing close to sea level, a Round of 16 showing would surely be seen as a success, albeit a manageable one given their group, particularly if France fail to step things up from their poor qualifying campaign.

How far will Ecuador go?

A weak group means the Round of 16 wouldn't be a huge shock, but they're the weakest among the South American competitors. It also wouldn't be a surprise if they failed to get out of the group.

ESPN FC Analysts' take: Mario Kempes

Ecuador's offence is better than their defence, though they scored only 20 goals in qualifying. Caicedo has aimed to make up for Benitez's impact, scoring twice in the four games after his death. Valencia is their most important player -- he needs to elevate the rest.

Ecuador have a fragile mentality. When they're playing with the score in their favour, everything works out. When they're not, they lose track of the game and show signs of desperation. That's when you start to see that lack of cohesiveness.

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