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COUNTDOWN 19: Valencia hopes to cheer mourning Ecuador in Brazil

COUNTDOWN 19: Valencia hopes to cheer mourning Ecuador in Brazil
May 26
14:16 2014

Nobody saw it coming, not even Manchester United’s galloping winger, Antonio Valencia, so news of the death of Christian Benitez, shook the whole of Ecuador.

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But as the captain of the national team and with a wealth of experience playing for arguably the biggest club in the world, Valencia is the man who can galvanize his country and the World Cup will be the stage.

“Christian will always be in our hearts and our minds, wherever we go,” the 28-year-old, who led his country to finish fourth in qualifying and clinch the last automatic slot for South America, recently said of his late compatriot.

Although he has endured a season to forget at Manchester United, the former Villarreal man still managed to contribute 4 goals and 5 assists in over 30 appearances — a creditable return in a shambolic season.

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Valencia’s form for country is also impressive. Using his sheer pace to cut in centrally from the wings, he contributed 5 assists and 2 goals in 20 appearances, helping Ecuador finish the qualification line ahead of Uruguay.

Qualification for Brazil 2014 was not achieved on a platter of gold — far from it. Ecuador did not win a single game away from home and had to rely of their form at home in Quito where harsh playing conditions — altitude of 2,800 metres above sea level — helped them to seven wins, a draw against Argentina and no loss to earn their third appearance in the World Cup.

Ever since cutting its teeth at Korea/Japan 2002, Ecuador have only failed to qualify for the Mundial once — in South Africa 2010 — and they have a creditable record. Failing to leave the group stage in 2002 but gaining a surprise win over Croatia, La Tri improved in 2006 to reach the round-of-16 where they narrowly lost 0-1 to England.

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After failing to qualify for South Africa 2010, Ecuador turned to familiar ground,  Colombia, to appoint a new coach, as their two World Cups where achieved under the guidance of Hernan Dario Gomez and Luis Fernandez Suarez. Reinaldo Rueda, the third, achieved similar success with Honduras before his appointment.

The 57-year old former Colombia U-17, U-20, and national team coach who never played professional football as a player will however be looking to improve on his World Cup record of no win and no goal scored, banking on an attacking unit that could aid his cause.

Aside captain Valencia, another speedy and tricky winger in Jefferson Montero, when galloping on the opposite flank and aided by the full backs, can wreak havoc. Also, there is the experience offered by the likes of Felipe Caicedo, Edison Mendez, Walter Ayovi and Segundo Castillo, who all have top European experiences.

Strength

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If Ecuador are to achieve anything of note at the World Cup, their foremost weapon, which is excellent wing play, will have to be perfected and chances created thereof taken with aplomb. Also, the Brazilian weather would suit them nicely and could aid their cause.

Weakness

Their attacking prowess is unmatched by a paper-tight defensive unit which succumbs to early pressure and rarely keeps a clean sheet. Recent 4-2 and 4-0 defeats to second-string Germany and Argentina respectively are timely reminders that major defensive work needs to be done as the World Cup is an unforgiving ground, especially with the team set to face the big teams with their full-strength squads.

Last line

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Featuring in the biggest tournament in world football with the best teams requires a plan B, and Ecuador could do with such alternative plan to give them hope of making it out of their group.

 

 

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