On the soccer field, Ecuador has many of the same goals as the other nations competing in the World Cup. They have a great opportunity to move out of the group by finishing second. However, Ecuador has a higher purpose while in Brazil, which is to honor a fallen teammate. The loss of a team leader and one of the most vital players in their attack gives Ecuador even more motivation this summer.
On July 29, 2013 Christian Benitez passed away after playing his first match as a well-compensated signee of Qatari club El Jaish. He entered the hospital with abdominal pains and was pronounced dead hours later as the result of cardiac arrest. Benitez scored four goals during Ecuador’s qualifying games and was becoming a mainstay for the squad. Benitez scored 24 total international goals for his country. He and his family name are tied to Ecuadorian soccer in so many ways, so now his teammates have to forge ahead with his legacy as fuel to succeed.
Ecuador won three of their last four qualifiers after the passing of Benitez. They did their best to honor their fallen teammate through performance. Benitez was 27 when he passed away. Every match in Brazil will be an ode to him. Ecuador lost a battle with FIFA to retire his number, so someone on the squad will have extra incentive to excel with the No. 11 on their back. It is a story of triumph and loss that could unfold in Brazil.
Ecuador scored 20 goals in their qualifying run, which was the lowest total of any qualifying CONMEBOL country. They will have to generate more goals in the World Cup and the main striker duties will fall upon Felipe Caicedo. Caicedo scored seven goals in nine appearances during qualifying, and has shown a good combination of strength and speed. Carlos “The Demolisher” Tenorio has an outside chance to travel to Brazil.
The catalyst to the attack will be Manchester United‘s Antonio Valencia. Despite his flexibility, he will be slotted on the right wing to provide space for Caicedo. He was deeply affected by the passing of Benitez and even got an image of his teammate tattooed on his arm. Jefferson Montero will be on the opposite wing from Valencia.
Enner Valencia, no relation to Antonio, will be asked to play several roles for Ecuador. While he can be useful in the attacking third, he will probably be dropping deeper to receive the ball. He could float out to flanks depending on the deployed tactics. Valencia is the wildcard in the midfield.
Christian Noboa has become a favorite of Rueda’s. He is scheduled to line up along side Segundo Castillo in Brazil. Noboa may be the best passer on the Ecuadorean squad. He is the player that gets Ecuador from defense to offense in a hurry.
There are a lot of problems in the back. Rueda is searching for center-backs. He scheduled a match on a non-FIFA date with a random assembly of citizens as the opponents. Jairo Campos is injury-prone. John Narvaez has been moved to right-back by his club team. Right now, they have no solutions in central defense.
Alexander Dominguez has been solid in goal, but Adrian Bone and Maximo Banguera have seen time in net under Rueda.
The biggest issue is going to be the back line. Rueda needs to come up with a plan for his center-backs and stick with it. France is the favored team, but second place is wide open. Ecuador has a lot to prove and a lot of emotion on their side. They will get out of the group after a mild upset of Switzerland, but lose to Argentina in the second round.