Ecuador's World Cup predictions
After four years of waiting, the time has come. Another World Cup is here, and our bloggers across all 32 competing countries have each predicted the fate that awaits their team. The country's Outlook gives a general view of its situation ahead of the tournament, while Pitfalls takes a look at any potential problems. Each blogger will also predict the top scorer and breakout star and suggest how far that nation can go.
Ecuador's preparation for the World Cup has largely gone to plan. They selected strong opponents for their pre-tournament friendlies and generally performed to a good standard in draws with Netherlands (1-1) and England (2-2) and a defeat to Mexico (1-3). Coach Reinaldo Rueda will have learned more about his side from those matches than he would have done against lower-level opposition.
However, the late withdrawal of experienced midfielder Segundo Castillo, who suffered a knee injury in the defeat to Mexico, is a big blow. Castillo had formed an excellent central-midfield partnership with Christian Noboa, and Ecuador will miss his leadership qualities on and off the pitch.
All 32 team previews and predictions
Brazil | Cameroon | Croatia | Mexico
Australia | Netherlands | Chile | Spain
Colombia | Greece | Ivory Coast | Japan
Costa Rica | England | Italy | Uruguay
Ecuador | France | Honduras | Switzerland
Argentina | Bosnia | Iran | Nigeria
Germany | Ghana | Portugal | USA
Algeria | Belgium | Russia | South Korea
The defence remains the biggest area of concern. Ecuador's warm-up matches were littered with individual errors, and collectively they struggled to deal with the varied movement of the Dutch and English attacks. There is an excessive burden on the fullbacks to tuck in and provide cover when the central defenders step forward in search of interceptions.
The lack of a quality alternative to Felipe Caicedo could also be an issue, particularly in light of the striker's less-than-stellar fitness record. Ecuador find it difficult to hold the ball in the final third when Caicedo is not on the pitch -- as seen most evidently in the second half of the draw with the Netherlands -- and do not have another player who can replicate what he brings to the side.
Enner Valencia worked his way into the national team picture only toward the end of the qualifying process. He is now a fixture in Rueda's side, and on the back of an excellent start to his career in Mexico, Valencia is the player most likely to lead Ecuador's scoring charts this summer.
Valencia is an explosive forward: quick and strong on the ground and good in the air. His technique does let him down on occasion, as does a failure to get his head up and assess his options, but these faults have not prevented him from scoring 18 goals in 23 appearances since joining Pachuca in Liga MX nor from netting in each of Ecuador's last two warm-up matches.
With Caicedo occupying opposition defenders with his sturdy hold-up play, Valencia will find the necessary space to add to his recent tally in Brazil.
Michael Arroyo might be more accurately described as a wild child -- having received a two-year ban after testing positive for marijuana use earlier in his career -- but his slick skills and long-range shooting ability also render him a potent wild card to bring off the bench when Ecuador are in need of a goal.
Arroyo showed what he can offer in the recent friendly draw with England, entering the pitch in the 68th minute and producing a superbly struck equaliser from outside the penalty area shortly thereafter. He can be maddeningly inconsistent but has an impressive scoring record for his position at club level and is capable of producing game-winning moments of magic.
PREDICTION: Last 16
Ecuador received a relatively favourable group-stage draw, which has raised expectations about their chances of making it through to the knockout stages. The furthest the national team have gone in a World Cup was their run to the last 16 in 2006, and the squad are determined to at least match that performance this time around.
Their opener against Switzerland is likely to prove decisive. If they win, they will go into their second match against Honduras -- on paper, the weakest of their opponents -- knowing that another victory probably would be enough to see them through with a match to spare. They will not want to rely on getting a result against France in their final fixture.
Defensive problems persist, but Ecuador's pace and power in the final third should be sufficient to see them go through to the last 16. Any further is likely to be beyond them.