Even at Sea Level, Ecuador Must Focus on the Air
During South American World Cup qualifying Ecuador was unbeatable. At home, that is, where they secured 23 of their 28 qualifying points. The capital city, Quito, is nearly 3000 meters above sea level. You science buffs and oxygen fans will no doubt deduce that this makes it difficult to breathe in the city. Especially if you are just visiting. And especially if you are trying to play football whilst visiting. Ecuadorian fans bristle at this notion, and to be sure the team played well throughout qualifying; but playing matches in the high altitude of Quito was likely a major advantage.
As I see it, there are two choices left to the Ecuadorians: move all of their matches to the Alps and hope for the best…or focus on one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses and the one most likely to produce disappointment at the World Cup. This means altering their tactics when playing in the air.
Ecuador lacks real experience playing off of the ground both offensively and defensively. The Germans—and to an extent the Poles—are much more adept at playing in the air, and both are in Group A with Ecuador.
None of this comes as a surprise to Ecuadorian skipper Luis Suarez. Suarez hopes Ecuador’s friendlies leading up to the World Cup can help hone his side’s aerial prowess, but it will take some serious coaching to get this team ready for some of the more seasoned teams in its group. What’s more, Suarez cannot afford to presume much will come out of these friendlies. When Ecuador played Poland recently in Spain for example, the South Americans were a weakened side and lost 3-0 on a pitch that functioned more like an ankle-deep lake.
As for individual players, Giovanny Espinoza and “the Kangaroo” Felix Borja are the most talented aerialists. But Espinoza plays for LDU Quito and Borja for El Nacional, which reminds us that very few on the national team have experience playing in Europe. As for the goalkeepers, Damian Lanza, Cristian Mora and Edwin Villafuerte inspire little confidence when high crosses start cascading into the box.
So, here’s a plea to gaffer Suarez and the Ecuadorians: don’t lament the thick air, just get up and play in it.
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