QUITO, Ecuador—Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, by far Ecuador’s best-known player, will be joined by some other up-and-coming attackers that could shine at the World Cup in Brazil.
The main doubt for Ecuador is more likely to be in defense, where the team has no Europe-based players.
That could be a problem in Group E, where France is a heavy favorite and second place will be fought over by Ecuador, Switzerland and Honduras.
Here are five players to watch:
Christian Benitez’s death on July 29, 2013, tore up Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda’s plans for his team’s attack and made Felipe Caicedo’s role increasingly important.
Caicedo, who plays for Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates, is now the main central striker. He has experience playing for Manchester City in the Premier League and with Spanish club Malaga.
The 25-year-old Caicedo debuted for Ecuador when he was 16 and is known for his strength, speed and ability to hold up play.
Caicedo scored seven goals in nine appearances in South American qualifying.
A lot of responsibility for Ecuador’s performance at the World Cup lies with right winger Antonio Valencia, who joined Manchester United in 2009.
Valencia, whose nickname in Spanish is “the train” due to his speed, will be charged with providing opportunities for Caicedo, as well as tracking back to help out the defense.
The Manchester United player starred for Ecuador the last time it reached the World Cup in 2006, after which he joined Wigan. He is known for his down-to-earth demeanor and work ethic.
Valencia was deeply affected by the death of Benitez, a long-time friend who had been his teammate at Ecuadorean club Nacional and with the national team. He even tattooed his image onto his arm.
A left winger playing for Mexican club Morelia, Jefferson Montero has already played in Europe for Spanish side Villarreal and is one of Ecuador’s most dangerous attacking players.
Montero is highly experienced at international level, despite his youth, and will be looking for a good World Cup to garner interest from European clubs.
Montero has pace, good control and is capable of stretching defenses if given room to operate.
Another Ecuadorean in the Mexican league, Enner Valencia has only recently earned a starting place in the national team, but is already an important player.
No relation to Antonio Valencia, he is set to play alongside Caicedo in Ecuador’s attack, but is more of a withdrawn forward and will drop deep to receive the ball or drift to the flanks.
Valencia only featured in three of Ecuador’s qualifying games late on in the campaign, but impressed coach Reinaldo Rueda.
“Hopefully Enner Valencia will be one of the revelations (of the World Cup),” Rueda said.
Christian Noboa has played most of his career in Russia, joining Rubin Kazan in 2007 and moving on to Dynamo Moscow in 2012, where he has established himself as one of the best central midfielders in the league.
The 28-year-old Noboa was first called up to Ecuador’s national team in 2006, but didn’t become a regular until Rueda took over. Noboa then went on to become one of the key figures in qualifying and is set to play alongside experienced midfielder Segundo Castillo in Brazil.
Noboa is the heartbeat of Ecuador’s team, with his range of passing bringing wingers like Valencia and Montero into the game.