World Cup: Troubled Ecuador try to break duck
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Ecuador, criticised by two of their most experienced players and without a point or a goal from their first two World Cup qualifiers, badly need a change in fortune when they visit Paraguay on Saturday.
Peru, Colombia and Bolivia will also be trying to score their first goals of the South American qualifying competition, where Argentina are the only team with maximum points after two games.
Ecuador, who have lost all 10 of their previous matches away to Paraguay, have qualified for the last two World Cups but have made a miserable start in their bid to make it three in a row.
An opening 1-0 defeat by Venezuela in Quito, their first home loss for six years, was followed by a 5-0 drubbing in Brazil four days later.
Following those results, defender Ivan Hurtado, who has won 145 caps and Ulises de la Cruz, who has 98, both criticised the atmosphere in the national team and were dropped from the squad.
Coach Luis Fernando Suarez and his players were reluctant to discuss their absence this week.
'Enough of gossip, lies, rumours and intrigue,' Suarez told Ecuadorean media. 'The team that thinks about defeat before the game is already beaten.'
PSV Eindhoven midfielder Edison Mendez said: 'The things that Ulises said are his problem.
'I've spoken to my team mates and the atmosphere is good. He and Ivan Hurtado and are not here, so we'll think about the players who are going to play.'
With Brazil and Argentina expected to take two of South America's four or five places in South Africa, Paraguay and Ecuador are direct rivals for one of the other spots.
Paraguay, attempting to qualify for their fourth successive finals and with four points from their opening games, have promised to try to compound Ecuador's poor start at the Defenders of the Chaco stadium.
'Ecuador are a team who have started badly and we mustn't give them a chance,' said English-based striker Roque Santa Cruz, returning after missing last month's games through injury.
Argentina, who lead the group with six points, host Bolivia, who have one point and no goals scored, in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
Javier Zanetti is to make a record-breaking 116th appearance for Argentina, who opened with 2-0 wins at home to Chile and away to Venezuela.
In the day's other game, Colombia, whose first two games ended 0-0, take on Venezuela, who have three points.
Brazil, on four points, will expect to chalk up a win from Sunday's visit to Peru, who have one.
Uruguay and Chile, both with three points, complete the weekend's programme when they meet on Sunday in Montevideo.