For a side which wrapped up qualification with a game to spare, Ecuador’s road to Qatar World Cup 2022 has been fraught with complications.
Manager Jordi Cruyff left his post before taking charge of a match, leaving Gustavo Alfaro to assume control on the eve of the qualifiers.
That process began with a narrow defeat in Argentina to a Lionel Messi penalty but, by the time the teams reconvened in Quito a whopping 17 games later, Alfaro had led his side to Qatar.
Home form provided the foundations, but away wins in Bolivia and Chile proved priceless. It was the latter who provided an unexpected barrier after the qualifying campaign had seemingly wrapped up, with the Chilean Football Federation alleging that Ecuador had qualified via the use of an ineligible player: Byron Castillo.
A Fifa investigation threw out the Chilean claim that Castillo was, in fact, Colombian and had falsified his passport.
With the controversy apparently put to bed – though Chile continued to appeal the decision – Alfaro could set about planning for the tournament in Qatar, where his crop of players are well equipped to spring a surprise. Brighton midfielder Moise Caicedo is emblematic of his country’s approach: young, gifted, physically unforgiving.
A natural born organiser at just 20, the Seagulls midfielder ties together a powerful, pacey 4-3-3 approach headlined by all-time leading goalscorer Enner Valencia and led in attack by the imposing Michael Estrada.
Further back, Pervis Estupinan – who joined Caicedo at Brighton in August to replace the departed Marc Cucurella – is another energetic presence to watch closely, while Piero Hincapie of Bayer Leverkusen is a front-foot, left-sided central defender who has been quietly turning heads in the Bundesliga. All in all, this is an energetic young collective which demands respect.
Manager: Gustavo Alfaro
Star player: Moises Caicedo
One to watch: Piero Hincapie
World Cup finals appeared in: 2002, 2006, 2014
Fixtures: Nov 20 - Qatar v Ecuador; Nov 25 - Netherlands v Ecuador; Nov 29 - Ecuador v Senegal