thumbnail Hello,

South American juggernauts, Brazil will embark on a mission to win for the first time and score their first ever goal at Ecuador in a World Cup qualifying encounter.

Kick-off: Sunday, 29 March 2009, 16:00 local time – Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa, Quito, Ecuador

Staying Alive

Ecuador kicked off their 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign in disastrous fashion, losing their first three games in a row including a 5-0 reverse against Brazil at the Maracana in October, followed by a 5-1 mauling by Paraguay a month later.

Since then, however, they have only lost once in their subsequent seven qualifiers, which came rather surprisingly in the shape of a 3-1 loss to Venezuela in the last round of matches.

They have clawed their way back into contention to qualify for their third ever World Cup finals and their third in succession, although they will face a lot of stiff competition. Surprise package, Paraguay, perennial giants Brazil and Argentina, Chile and two-time world champions Uruguay are all battling for just four automatic spots and one play-off berth.

Currently sitting in sixth place in the gruelling CONMEBOL qualifying section, Ecuador are four points away from direct qualification, but crucially, they have kept within touching distance of Uruguay in fifth place as only a single point separate the two sides. However, that’s not their main concern.

After this weekend’s clash with second-placed Brazil, La Tri will have to entertain in-form group leaders, Paraguay, just three days later. Anything but a decent pair of result and their campaign could go terribly wrong, terribly quickly. They will, however, be hoping that the high altitude will help them upset the visiting two front-runners.

Inconsistent But Improving

Ecuador has not been a happy hunting ground for Brazil. The five-time World Champions have never won and never even scored a goal on Ecuadorian soil in a World Cup qualifier, having drawn once in 1993 and lost 1-0 twice in the previous two qualifying editions.

The Selecao may be second in the current CONMEBOL standings but they are a massive six points adrift of the impressive Paraguayans, and just one point ahead of their bitter rivals, Argentina and Chile. And the main reason for that is because they have been dogged by inconsistency.

After ten rounds in the South American qualifiers, not once have they been able to string together back-to-back wins. Not only that, they have failed to win their last three matches at home and they have also failed to score a single goal infront of their fans. But on their travels, they have been notably prolific.

They’ve won their last two away from home and scored seven goals in the process and there are signs that they could be hitting a rich vein of form as coach, Dunga starts to slowly unravel the combinations to his perfect eleven.

He also appears to have discovered the ideal playing style and system for his team, as the two most recent performances will show. In November last year, they gave a masterclass in attacking football to their European brothers, Portugal, when they destroyed them 6-2 in a friendly and just last month, they again looked convincing when they easily swept past their closest World Cup rivals, Italy, 2-0.

But the qualifiers often prove a very different challenge for Brazil as their South American adversaries tend to be far more aggressive. However, the Samba stars have an excellent chance to put some distance between themselves and their direct competition and perhaps even edge closer towards securing qualification. A win here in Quito will set them up nicely for next Wednesday’s clash with rock-bottom Peru back home in Porto Alegre.

FORM GUIDE

Ecuador

Dec 19 Oman 2-0 Ecuador (FRIENDLY)

Dec 17 Iran 0-1 Ecuador (FRIENDLY)

Nov 12 Ecuador 1-2 Mexico (FRIENDLY)

Oct 15 Venezuela 3-1 Ecuador (CONMEBOL WCQ)

Oct 12 Ecuador 1-0 Chile (CONMEBOL WCQ)

Brazil

Feb 10 Brazil 2-0 Italy (FRIENDLY)

Nov 19 Brazil 6-2 Portugal (FRIENDLY)

Oct 15 Brazil 0-0 Colombia (CONMEBOL WCQ)

Oct 12 Venezuela 0-4 Brazil (CONMEBOL WCQ)

Sep 10 Brazil 0-0 Bolivia (CONMEBOL WCQ)

TEAM NEWS

Ecuador

Ecuador’s two big stars, Antonio Valencia and Edison Mendez have both shaken off their respective injuries and will be expected to start. Captain, Ivan Hurtado missed training in the early parts of the week due to the flu but has since recovered. Isaac Mina, who picked up a knock during Monday’s opening training session, should be fit in time.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Jose Francisco Cevallos (LDU Quito), Marcelo Elizaga (Emelec), Maximo Banguera (Barcelona SC)

Defenders: Neicer Reasco, Jairo Campos, Paul Ambrosi (LDU Quito), Miguel Ibarra (Espoli), Giovanni Espinoza (Barcelona SC), Jorge Guagua (El Nacional), Ivan Hurtado (Millonarios), Isaac Mina (Deportivo Quito), Deyson Mendez (Espoli)

Midfielders: Segundo Castillo (Everton), Edison Mendez (PSV Eindhoven), Antonio Valencia (Wigan), Cristian Noboa (Rubin Kazan), Joffre Guerron (Getafe), Walter Ayovi (Monterrey), David Quiroz (Emelec), Patricio Urrutia (LDU Quito), Jefferson Montero (Independiente Jose Teran)

Forwards: Felipe Caicedo (Manchester City), Cristian Benitez (Santos Laguna), Pablo Palacios (Barcelona SC), Walter Calderon (LDU Quito), Joao Rojas (Emelec).

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Cevallos – Reasco, Espinoza, Hurtado, Ambrosi – Guerron, Castillo, Mendez, Valencia – Christian Benitez, Caicedo

Brazil

Playmaker Kaka remains a huge doubt due to a foot injury, although Dunga is optimistic that he will be fit in time. Striker Adriano, meanwhile, is still nursing an ankle problem. Roma centre-back, Juan, has been left out of the squad again after picking up an injury in the Champions League clash against Arsenal two weeks ago. Sao Paulo’s Miranda has been called up in his place. 

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter), Doni (AS Roma)

Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Inter), Lucio (Bayern Munich), Miranda (Sao Paulo), Thiago Silva (AC Milan), Luisao (Benfica), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Kleber (Internacional)

Midfielders: Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos), Josue (VfL Wolfsburg), Anderson (Manchester United), Felipe Melo (Fiorentina), Elano (Manchester City), Julio Baptista (AS Roma), Kaka (AC Milan)

Forwards: Ronaldinho (AC Milan), Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Adriano (Inter), Robinho (Manchester City)

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Lucio, Luisao, Kleber – Gilberto Silva, Anderson – Elano, Ronaldinho/Kaka, Robinho – Luis Fabiano

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ecuador

As one of the perennial underdogs, Ecuador rely heavily on their compact team unity to overcome the bigger South American superstars and their coach, Sixto Vizuete has confidently boasted that his side are stronger than Brazil collectively. But if there’s one player he can look to to turn the game around, it will be winger, Antonio Valencia, a player who can easily exploit their opponents’ attacking-minded fullbacks.

Brazil

Robinho may not be consistently at his best with his club side, Manchester City, but when he puts on the verde-amarela colours, he rarely fails to impress. With Kaka still doubtful and unlikely to be fully fit even if he does play, it will be up to O Principe to provide the creative spark. Also keep an eye on his club-mate, Elano, who tends to shine with the national team when called upon.

PREDICTION

Ecuador may have leaked in 17 goals so far but the bulk of those came in the early parts of the campaign when they were struggling. They have tightened up significantly at the back since then and they have become a tough nut to crack, especially in their own backyard.

But Brazil, invariably, are a side who performs better on away games as they take advantage of their opponents’ desire to come out and attack when at home. The altitude could prevent the Canarinho from performing to their full potential but they should still have enough firepower to sneak away with a narrow win.

Ecuador 0-1 Brazil

KS Leong, Goal.com

Related