Easily the most famous player Ecuador has ever produced, the lightning-quick winger has been a mainstay with the Red Devils for five seasons, and at 28 is now his country’s captain. His darting runs are key to Ecuador’s carefully synchronized movements through the opponents’ half.
Action Images / ReutersSTR
The golden generation of Ecuadorian football secured the country's first World Cup berth in 2002. Álex Aguinaga, Agustin Delgado and Iván Hurtado are long gone now, but the fruits of their labors still linger. A second berth four years later consolidated the progress and established the expectations for the future by reaching the round of 16. The failed efforts in the last cycle placed considerable emphasis on cinching a return this time around.
AFP/Getty ImagesYOSHIKAZU TSUNO
Nothing appeared to be wrong with Christian “Chucho” Benitez. The squat striker broke out with El Nacional in the Ecuadoran league in 2006, and soon found himself playing for Santos Laguna in Mexico. There, he scored 17 goals in his first year and 14 in his second, before a failed one-year stint in England brought him back to Santos. Once returned to the Mexican league, he scored an incredible 72 league goals over the next three seasons for Santos and America. Then an offer came from El Jaish of Qatar in summer 2013. On July 28 he made his debut in the searing heat but, at age 27, he seemed well equipped to handle it. Chucho played out the game without incident and returned home. The next day, he went to a hospital in Doha complaining of pain in his abdomen. He later went into respiratory failure and died of the complications from a cardiac arrest. In shock, Ecuador mourned the death of its beloved striker, and immediately retired his number 11 from the national team.
AFP/Getty ImagesRODRIGO BUENDIA
How they got here
Reinaldo Rueda's side somehow processed the traumatic passing of star striker Christian Benítez earlier this year and stuck to the task at hand to hold off Uruguay for the fourth and final automatic place. Jefferson Montero scored the decisive goal to dispatch the Uruguayans in Quito and essentially guarantee that spot back in October.
Action Images / ReutersENRIQUE CASTRO-MENDIVIL
Favorable. Group E’s batch of Ecuador, France, Honduras and Switzerland will fill the South Americans with hope. How good the French will be at a World Cup is always very hard to predict. Regardless, neither Honduras nor Switzerland should be assignments that the Ecuadorians can’t handle. They should advance from this group, and could very well win it.
AFP/Getty ImagesNELSON ALMEIDA
Round of 16 prospects
Tricky. It’s all about avoiding Argentina here. That’s because other than the two-time champions, Group F doesn’t hold much quality. Nigeria, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran aren’t teams that strike fear in anyone. Cross over with the Argentineans though, and you’d have a hard time seeing Ecuador push into the quarterfinals.
Action Images / ReutersANDRES STAPFF
The prospect of competing in a World Cup on South American soil offers hope for a second berth in the knockout stage. Rueda imposes a fairly conservative bent on a side that must rely more on structure than individual talent to fulfill its defensive obligations. Montero and Valencia pose the most pressing threats going forward with their direct, threatening runs, but Benítez's passing unfortunately stripped the side of its best finisher. If Felipe Caicedo can chip in with a goal or two, or Montero offers a match-winning display during group play, then Ecuador could replicate its success from eight years ago.