Ikwayur / Ekuatur / Ecuador
- Capital: Quito / Kitu
- Official Languages: Spanish
- Recognized Regional Languages: Kichwa, Shuar
- Nicknames: La Tri (The Tri); La Tricolor (The Tricolors)
- Association: Federación Ecuatoriana de Fútbol (FEF)
- FIFA Code: ECU
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Round of 16 (2006)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Group Stage (2015)
- Best Copa América Result (Men): Fourth Place (1959 & 1993)
- Best Copa América Result (Women): Third Place (2014)
- Best Gold Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (2002)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 10th (July 2012)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 46th (December 2014)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 71st (November 2017)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 110th (March 2009)
- Most Capped Player: Iván Hurtado – 168 caps
- Top Scorers: Agustín Delgado & Enner Valencia – 31 goals [as of April 2021]
The Republic of Ecuador (República del Ecuador / Ikwadur Ripuwlika / Ekuatur Nunka) is a country located in the northwest of the South American continent, and is one of the smaller countries within CONMEBOL in terms of size and population. Ecuador has the Pacific Ocean along its western coast and includes the famous, biologically diverse and important Galápagos Islands within its domain, with the country having land borders with Colombia to its north, and Peru to its east and south. Originally part of the Inca Empire, and then becoming a Spanish colony in the 16th century, the country is named after the Earth’s equator which runs through the north of Ecuador. Ecuador subsequently gained its full independence in 1830 after breaking away from the state of Gran Colombia, which itself had gained independence from Spain ten years previously.
Football was brought to Ecuador as early as the end of the 19th century, with the first Ecuadorian club side (Guayaquil Sport Club) being founded in April 1899. It wouldn’t be until 1925 when the Ecuadorian FA (FEF) was founded, with the nation becoming members of both FIFA and CONMEBOL in 1926 and 1927 respectively, although it wouldn’t be until 1938 when Ecuador would have their first officially FIFA-recognised match – a 1-1 draw with Bolivia in Bogotá, Colombia.
Traditionally, Ecuador have been regarded as one of the underdogs of South American football. Since their first appearance in the 1939 competition, they have yet to win the Copa América and are one of just two CONMEBOL members who have yet to win a continental title (Venezuela being the other), with their best performances being fourth place finishes in both the 1959 and 1993 editions of the tournament. It wouldn’t be until the late 1990s when Ecuadorian performances improved and a talented generation of players progressed into the senior team, culminating in La Tri finally qualifying for their first ever World Cup by finishing second in the 2002 World Cup qualifying group. Although they finished bottom of their group, they did achieve a famous 1-0 victory over Croatia in their final group game. They would return for their second consecutive World Cup four years later and perform even better in Germany. In a group containing the hosts, Poland and Costa Rica, they surprised the football world by defeating both Poland and Costa Rica to qualify for the round of 16 where they faced England, but a David Beckham goal was the sole decider in the game which ended Ecuador’s dreams of a quarter final appearance.
Ecuadorian football continued to succeed in the 2010’s in both the men’s and women’s game, with the men qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and the women qualifying for their first World Cup in the 2015 women’s edition. The Ecuadorians were very unlucky not to have progressed to the 2014 World Cup knockout rounds having beaten Honduras and achieved an impressive goalless draw against group winners France, but suffered a defeat against the Swiss which involved a 93rd minute winner and ultimately resulted in Switzerland progressing rather than Ecuador. The Swiss would again cause headaches for the Ecuadorians in the Women’s World Cup, when they hammered them 10-1 in the second group game, as La Tricolor finished bottom of their group having lost all three group games. However they did achieve a respectable 0-1 defeat to the defending champions Japan in the final group game.
Despite recent results for the Ecuadorian teams being disappointing, and the national teams being considered to have underperformed, having not qualified for the 2018 and 2019 World Cups, and with the men’s side not progressing beyond the group stage in the 2019 Copa América, there are still great hopes that Ecuador can repeat the achievements of the previous squads. With a glut of excellent young players progressing through the national team teams (with the U20 side finishing third in the 2019 U-20 World Cup), there is excitement that La Tri could potentially qualify for the 2022 World Cup and possibly be considered a ‘dark horse’ in the upcoming Copa América. Maybe 2021 could be the year when Ecuador finally lifts that iconic continental trophy…
Talking about a side who have appeared in three of the last five men’s World Cups but are yet to clinch their inaugural Copa América, we interviewed the excellent Twitter account, Plantain FC. They are a superb account that reports on all things happening in the Ecuadorian LigaPro in the English language, either through their Twitter account or regular roundups on their YouTube channel, and have had their articles featured in both @TheLibertadores and @LaMediaInglesa. To find their social media accounts and YouTube channel, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all time, and the reasoning behind the choices?
Regarding the best-ever player, I think this answer would vary according to what generation the person you asked is a part of. If you asked someone who managed to watch football in the period 1960-1970, they would categorically say Alberto Spencer. Spencer dominated that decade with a Peñarol side scoring 326 goals in 519 appearances and winning 3 Copa Libertadores titles and 2 Intercontinental Cups. Spencer is probably one of the best players to ever come out of South America and is still the Copa Libertadores top goal scorer.
The generation that watched football in the ’90s would probably choose Alex Aguinaga as their best player of all time. The exquisite playmaker moved to Necaxa in Mexico when he was 21 years old. There he won 3 titles and is considered to be one of the best foreign players to ever play in the Mexican league. Additionally, Aguinaga was one of the most influential players in the national team that were able to qualify for a first World Cup in 2002.
The newer generation would likely choose Luis Antonio Valencia as the best Ecuadorian player. Valencia managed to do what no other Ecuadorian has ever done: captain one of the biggest clubs in the world in Manchester United. Valencia was also a pivotal part of our qualification to the 2006 and 2014 World Cups and was arguably our best player in the 2006 tournament which is without a doubt the best performance we have had on the international stage.
So, to summarize, it all depends on who you ask. Any of those three players have a legitimate claim to being called the best Ecuadorian player of all time.
With regards to a manager, I’m going to go for Dušan Drašković. The Montenegrin manager came to Ecuador in 1988 and is considered to be a pioneer of football in Ecuador. Drašković ushered Ecuadorian football from the stone age to the modern age. The first thing he did here was that he broke down the way players were picked, he scouted 16 different provinces to find the best players. He then began to work comprehensively with players, at the physical, tactical, and psychological levels. Anything that we have been able to build over the last 3 decades has been built on the foundations laid down by Draškovic, and without him, we would have developed at a much later stage and perhaps we would still be looking for our first World Cup qualification.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
There are a group of players who can be considered to be cult heroes but I’m going to have to go for Iván Hurtado. The centre-back is the most capped international player in South America with 168 caps to his name. He was one of the first defensive players that I remember that was able to play comfortably with the ball and his leadership qualities meant that he was the undisputed captain for our national team. Additionally, he played for both big clubs from Guayaquil and later on became a congressman. Hurtado never shied away from the spotlight both on and off the pitch which makes him my top choice for a ‘cult hero’.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Ecuador currently?
On current form, you can’t see past Ángel Mena. The 33-year-old has been in fantastic form for both club and country lately [a 33-year-old winger currently playing for Mexican Liga MX club León]. His 2 goals and 3 assists from 4 appearances in the World Cup qualifiers have really solidified Ecuador as one of the candidates for a 2022 World Cup Final berth.
He’s producing some wonderful football under Gustavo Alfaro in what would be his final opportunity to play in the World Cup Finals. He is certainly being helped by a fantastic team that allows him to thrive whether from the wing or playing behind our target man.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
For the first time in a while, the country is excited by the national team. The last few years saw our team become one of the weakest teams in the continent, and a botched experiment with Jordi Cruyff saw the Ecuadorian FA bring in Argentine Gustavo Alfaro for his first taste managing a national team.
Alfaro has been a breath of fresh air. He watches many matches at the local level, his scouting and analysis team is very hands-on, and he overall shows through his actions that he wants to manage us.
We currently sit 3rd in the South American qualifiers and hopefully we can keep up this fantastic form which will mean we will participate and compete in the next World Cup and perhaps be the dark horses for this year’s Copa América.
Q. Are there any Ecuadorian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
We are spoilt for choice with our young players nowadays. After the fantastic work carried out by Independiente del Valle with their academy project, we are one of the best-positioned nations regarding talent production, coupled with a great youth set-up in the national team with Jorge Célico means that we are positioned well towards the future. If I were to choose all of the players that are exciting it would take me at least 5 pages. Players like Joao Plata [forward with Mexican side Toluca], Piero Hincapié [19-year-old centre-back at Argentine side Talleres], Rockson Rentería [19-year-old midfielder currently playing for Universidad Católica], and William Pacho [19-year-old defender with Independiente del Valle] will certainly be talked about in the near future.
One that has to be highlighted is Moisés Caicedo. The 19-year-old was signed by Brighton this year after being one of the stand-out players for Independiente del Valle’s U-20s, Independiente del Valle’s senior squad, and the Ecuadorian national team all in the same year.
Caicedo is a complete box-to-box midfielder who has the biggest talent and footballing brain that I’ve ever seen in an Ecuadorian. He controls the midfield tempo, he has a very wide passing range, his movement without the ball is impeccable, and he’s a hard-working lad. Brighton have managed to sign a great player and I hope we can see him play soon with their first team.
Q. Looking at Ecuador’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team in your opinion?
There is no person in the country that would mention anything other than the 2006 World Cup as the best performance that Ecuador has had. The team was brilliant, the country was buoyant, and we deserved to progress even further than we did.
Being drawn into the group with the hosts certainly helped, but the team led by Luis Fernando Suárez was a joy to watch. We systematically demolished Poland 2-0 and Costa Rica 3-0 to progress to the last 16.
In the last 16, we were cruelly knocked out by England’s ‘golden generation‘ from a David Beckham free-kick in a game where we hit the post and competed until the final whistle. I hope to be able to see us perform like this in one more tournament before I die.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Perhaps this is recency bias speaking, but the Copa América 2019 in Brazil was a nightmare from start to finish. We hired Bolillo Gómez who was the manager who led us to our first World Cup, but his managerial style was outdated, and although he was remembered fondly by all, we knew that his return would not yield good results for us. We finished last in a group that included Japan’s U-23 squad, and we were absolutely battered by Uruguay.
Our tournament ended with a group of players being kicked off the team for allegedly having a party in their hotel room after we were eliminated. The only silver lining from this was that Bolillo Gómez was sacked from the national team.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Ecuadorian national team?
The best thing about being a fan is how it brings all the people together. Our country is divided into 4 climate regions: the coast, the highlands, the Amazon, and Galapagos. All of our clubs at the professional level come from the coast or the highlands and the relationship between fans of each region is frosty, to say the least. However, when the national team plays most people come together, they set their regional rivalries aside and support the team.
The worst thing is the results. We have never traditionally been a good team. Only in recent history have we been able to compete against the rest of the countries in South America. I’m hopeful that this will change with the constant evolution that we have had both at club and country level.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
During our 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign, we adopted the “¡Sí se puede!” chant that was implemented by our Colombian manager Hernán Darío Gómez. This has stuck around until now, but I wouldn’t say it should be considered an anthem. This is something I’d absolutely love to have.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
The shirt we wore when we qualified for the World Cup for the first time. Whenever I see it, I have flashbacks to Agustín Delgado being the top goal scorer of the qualifiers, to Alex Aguinaga running circles around the Brazilian team in Quito, and of course of Jaime Iván Kaviedes taking it off to celebrate his goal against Uruguay which confirmed our berth.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Ecuadorian national team?
In the near future, compete in the Copa América 2020 and qualify for the 2022 World Cup. If we manage to continue working well with our youth teams, our clubs, and our senior squad then I’ll start to think about winning something. For the time being, I just hope we can become a mainstay in international football.
A massive muchas gracias to Diego from Liga Pro Roundup for answering our questions on La Tri. Remember you can find their social media accounts and YouTube channel in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at email@example.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.