World Cup 2014: Ecuador Preview - Valencia to lead Group E upset?

Ecuador crowd sign

The South American side may fancy their chances of splitting European duo France and Switzerland.

The perception

Perhaps perceived by those not in the know as the weakest of the South American teams, Ecuador nevertheless finished above Uruguay in the qualifying stage, and will undoubtedly be strong on their home continent. A lot will be expected of captain, Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, by far the highest profile player in the squad. 

The reality

Ecuador proved against England that they are no pushover, and the side will undoubtedly want to honour Christian Benitez, the side's star forward who sadly passed away midway through qualifying.

The nation and its players will harbour hopes of emerging from the group, and Ecuador's opening game with Switzerland may well be the key fixture for deciding this.

Strengths

Colombian manager Reinaldo Rueda has tightened up the Ecuadorian defence in his 4 years in charge, ensuring that they only conceded one goal more than CONMEBOL table toppers Argentina. The whole side is energetic and committed, with one time Everton midfielder Segundo Castillo impressing in qualifying.

As mentioned earlier, the fact the tournament is in familiar surroundings will benefit Ecuador greatly compared to France and Switzerland.

Weaknesses

Though their defensive stats were impressive, La Tri struggled to find the net in the qualifying campaign, scoring less goals than the other qualifiers, and meaning they didn't win any away games. Former Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo, who didn't play against England, will shoulder much of the attacking threat after netting 7 times in qualifying, while the skipper's namesake Enner Valencia has also impressed over recent fixtures.

Castillo is currently out injured and may not be fully fit for the opening game, something else that could damage their chances.

Key Player

It is hard to look past Antonio Valencia considering he is the country's figurehead and captain, and the United player will undoubtedly be integral to his side if they are to be successful.

However, Caicedo is the proven goalscorer in the squad with 15 goals, and only Luis Suarez, Radamel Falcao and Argentine forwards Messi and Higuain scored more across the qualifying campaign. If he carries on that form he may end up the key player for Ecuador.

One to Watch

Enner Valencia, who scored the opener against England, was converted from a winger to partner Caicedo upfront after Benitez passed away, and has proved himself one of the real prospects for the national team. After moving to Pachuca in the Mexican top flight this year he scored an impressive 18 goals in 23 games, and at 25-years-old, may fancy a switch to Europe in the near future.

Jefferson Montero is also a capable player on the other wing to Valencia, and though he struggled somewhat to settle in La Liga, he is still young and has undoubted class.

It's impossible not to mention Michael Arroyo either after his own blockbuster goal against England.

Verdict

Group E is tighter than it looks, and recent strong results against the Netherlands and England has shown Ecuador can mix it with big European teams. I fancy them to squeeze out of their group, though they will have to win it to avoid Argentina if results in Group F go as expected.

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