Ecuador is off to an impressive start to its 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign after a win and a draw against Qatar and the Netherlands, respectively. The South Americans go into their last group-stage match against Senegal Tuesday riding high on confidence.
The Ecuadorians will go into this game needing at least a point to qualify for the Round of 16. This is a team that goes for the win. It was clear by their dominating performances in their first two group games. They will be fancied to do the job against a tough, well-coached Senegal side.
Ecuador has been surprise of tournament, thus far
Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro can do no wrong at the moment. He brought back two tactical formations that he had not used in a long while, which have paid off immensely. In the game against Holland, he used the 3-4-3 formation.
Having three center-backs didn’t look like a good gamble at first because of Holland’s early goal through Cody Gakpo. As the game moved on, the Dutch couldn’t get any meaningful attacks all game long. Their lone goal was their only shot on target. They also couldn’t handle the full-backs acting as wingers. Both Ángelo Preciado and Pervis Estupiñán are having a great tournament.
Then there are the goalscoring exploits of Enner Valencia, a striker with an incredible story. The team captain leads the team with three goals. He is so effective in disrupting opposition defenses by going in and out of the wing and central areas. The Fenerbahçe man finds himself at the right place at the right time to find himself goals, as evidenced with his goal against the Netherlands.
Spirits are high in Ecuador with the fans and media. There is one lingering concern and it deals with Valencia. In both games, the 33-year-old had to be substituted for apparent injuries. Against the Netherlands on Friday, he had to be stretchered off late in the game.
Other possible sources for goals
Valencia has been so good for La Tri that Ecuadorian media are worried that their chances of making a deep run can take a hit if Valencia gets a long-term injury. All signs point to Valencia being fit for Senegal but it has the media looking at how a potential replacement will be able to fare in his place in case of an injury.
Alfaro has started Cruz Azul forward, Michael Estrada, in both games. He is likely to start again on Tuesday against Senegal. He was Ecuador’s top goalscorer in World Cup qualification. The problem is that he is goal-less for the national team since February against Peru. Despite not yet scoring in Qatar, Estrada is playing well by doing the dirty work of winning back balls and drawing out defenses.
Kevin Rodríguez is a young striker that is also an option if Valencia is not fully fit. Alfaro is putting a lot of trust in the 22-year-old that plays for Imbabura in the Ecuadorian second division. He has come on as a substitute in both games so far.
The forward was on no one’s radar before November. Then he was called up for the World Cup warm-up game against Iraq. He made his debut, and then made the World Cup squad. Ecuador scouted him well, and his nine goals in Ecuador’s Serie B must have been convincing enough to call him up.
Rodríguez is now clearly third in line in Alfaro’s striker pecking order. Valencia and Estrada being the top two. He is a tall, lanky forward who has good technical ability. The striker can score with both his head and feet, just like Valencia. He is also similar to Valencia in that he is very physical and will challenge for any contested ball. His willingness to go deep into midfield and win balls back and start transitions to attack, exemplify why he is already an Alfaro favorite.
He has shown signs of promise with the little time he has played. Ecuadorian media found his call-up controversial because there was a feeling that the team needed more experienced backup forwards.
Gustavo Alfaro made it his message that if a player is good enough, then they are old enough. This explains his shock call-up of Kevin Rodríguez, but it is also the reason why the whole team is young, energetic, and forward-attacking. Alfaro has given youth a chance and it is paying off for La Tri in the two years since he has been in charge.
Photo credit: Imago
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