Ecuador returns to the World Cup under Argentine coach

Oct 23, 2022, 2:16 PM | Updated: Oct 24, 2022, 2:52 am
Ecuador's Angel Mena is pictured during the international friendly soccer match between Japan and E...

Ecuador's Angel Mena is pictured during the international friendly soccer match between Japan and Ecuador as part of the Kirin Challenge Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

              FILE - Ecuador's Byron Castillo, left, and Japan's Shogo Taniguchi challenge for the ball during the international friendly soccer match between Japan and Ecuador as part of the Kirin Challenge Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
            
              Ecuador's head coach Gustavo Alfaro watches during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Cape Verde, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
            
              FILE - Ecuador's Renato Ibarra, left, battles for the ball with Colombia's Jefferson Lerma during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Rodrigo Buendia, Pool via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Ecuador head coach Gustavo Alfaro watches during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Cape Verde, Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
            
              Ecuador's Michael Estrada is pictured during the international friendly soccer match between Japan and Ecuador as part of the Kirin Challenge Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
            
              Ecuador's Angel Mena is pictured during the international friendly soccer match between Japan and Ecuador as part of the Kirin Challenge Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

QUITO (AP) — Although he wasn’t Ecuador’s first choice, Gustavo Alfaro will be the coach leading the country’s national team at the World Cup in Qatar.

The Argentine, who had been working at Boca Juniors, took over the Ecuador team in August 2020 from Jordi Cruyff, who hadn’t even led the team on the field once because of the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Alfaro left Buenos Aires for a team with a promising group of players who one year earlier had finished last in their group at the Copa America.

In his first news conference, he said Ecuador “has more of a future than it has of a present.”

“I want to be part of the process,” Alfaro said, “part of this growth and shape this dream that we have of playing the next World Cup.”

Ecuador will be there, the team’s fourth appearance since 2002 after missing out four years ago.

Ecuador will play in the opening match against host Qatar on Nov. 20 in Group A. Five days later, the team will face the Netherlands and then take on Senegal on Nov. 29.

PHYSICALITY

Ecuador’s young and physical team was very effective in South American qualifying, even more so in the altitude of Quito — 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level. The team earned 18 of its 26 points while playing at home.

There won’t be any altitude to take advantage of in Qatar, however, but players like defender Piero Hincapié, winger Gonzalo Plata and striker Enner Valencia should be able to trouble opponents.

Ecuador’s physicality was key in its 2-0 win at Chile in November 2021, when Alfaro played a team with all but three players under the age of 23.

GOAL DROUGHT

A pair of friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Japan in September has led to questions about the team’s ability to score. Valencia, the team’s main goal threat, failed to score in both matches.

Alfaro has already shown concerns about the team’s scoring form. His other options up front include Michael Estrada, Renato Ibarra, Ángel Mena and Djorkaeff Reasco. But they have also failed to score for the national team recently.

“We need to score again, that was part of our characteristic,” Alfaro said. “Scoring doesn’t depend on a winger. It depends on the whole team, from our capacity to assist, create opportunities.”

COURT CASE

Ecuador will play in the World Cup following a long legal battle. Chile and Peru filed a complaint regarding the nationality of midfielder Byron Castillo.

Shortly after Ecuador secured its spot at the World Cup, the Chilean soccer federation claimed Castillo was actually Colombian and therefore ineligible.

___

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