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Ecuador Copa America preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Ecuador Copa America preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of the Copa America, Sports Mole assesses Ecuador's chances as they look to reach the knockout stage for just the second time since the turn of the century.
Sports Mole

Still in search of their first Copa America trophy, and following their disappointing departure at the group stage two year ago, Ecuador head into this tournament with some renewed confidence.

La Tricolor failed to win a single game in 2019, and they come into the 2021 edition with a point to prove, having recently improved under the new management of former Boca Juniors manager Gustavo Alfaro.

In the seven Copa America tournaments since the turn of the century, Ecuador have made it out of the group stage just once in 2016, although in a new format with two groups of five sides, combined with an uplifted team, they will see this edition of the continental competition as one of their best chances of reaching the later rounds.

Alfaro will hope to get a strong reaction from his side after their poor campaign two years ago, as Ecuador look to get on the front foot and cruise through the group stage.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Ecuador's chances at the Copa America.


GROUP

In a tournament with just two five-team groups, a side is always bound to face some tough tests in the group stage, and that is definitely the case for Ecuador.

Gustavo Alfaro's men kick off their campaign with a difficult encounter against neighbours Colombia, who currently sit 15th in the FIFA world rankings.

They then take on Venezuela and Peru in quick succession, games which Alfaro will feel they must win if they are to break out of their group.

Those slightly more manageable fixtures are followed by an unenviable clash with heavily-fancied favourites Brazil, who come into the tournament as defending champions, having lifted the title for the ninth time in 2019.

FIXTURES

June 14: Colombia vs. Ecuador (1am BST, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)
June 20: Venezuela vs. Ecuador (10pm BST, Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro)
June 23: Ecuador vs. Peru (10pm BST, Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico, Goiania)
June 27: Brazil vs. Ecuador (10pm BST, Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico, Goiania)


RECENT FORM

Although Alfaro has brought about a general upturn in form for Ecuador, having won four of their last seven games, they do come into this tournament on the back of consecutive defeats.

Last time out, the Tricolor suffered a narrow 2-1 loss to Peru in World Cup Qualifying, as Gonzalo Plata's goal was too late to spark a comeback after the visitors led 2-0 through Christian Cueva and Luis Advincula.

Before that, Alfaro's men were beaten 2-0 by Brazil, as Richarlison and Neymar both got on the scoresheet to end Ecuador's four-game winning run.

That run saw them defeat Uruguay, Colombia and Bolivia on two separate occasions to start life under Alfaro in style, and they will be hoping to return to that form in the Copa America to see them through the group stage.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Alexander Dominguez (Velez Sarsfield), Pedro Ortiz (Emelec), Hernan Galindez (Universidad Catolica).

Defenders: Xavier Arreaga (Seattle Sounders), Robert Arboleda (Sao Paulo), Felix Torres (Santos Laguna), Pervis Estupinan (Villarreal), Angel Preciado (Genk), Mario Pineida (Barcelona SC), Diego Palacios (Los Angeles FC), Luis Leon (Barcelona SC), Piero Hincapie (Talleres).

Midfielders: Alan Franco (Atletico Mineiro), Jhegson Mendez (Orlando City), Christian Noboa (Sochi), Jose Carabali (Universidad Catolica), Moises Caicedo (Brighton), Angel Mena (Leon), Gonzalo Plata (Sporting de Lisboa), Dixon Arroyo (Emelec), Damian Diaz (Barcelona SC), Ayrton Preciado (Santos Laguna).

Forwards: Fidel Martinez (Tijuana), Jordy Caicedo (CSKA Sofia), Leonardo Campana (Famalicao), Enner Valencia (Fenerbahce), Michael Estrada (Toluca), Jose Hurtado (Independiente del Valle).


STAR PLAYER - Enner Valencia

With a more than impressive record of 31 goals in 57 international appearances, Enner Valencia is just one goal away from overtaking Agustin Delgado to become the sole leader of their all-time scoring charts.

Valencia arguably looked strongest in an Ecuador shirt in the 2014 World Cup, as the former West Ham United man netted all three of their goals in the group stage, firstly in a 2-1 defeat to Switzerland before he fired them to a 2-1 win over Honduras.

While his nation did not make it to the knockout stage, Valencia would continue his fine form as he finished 2014 with 10 goals in 10 international appearances in all competitions.

He comes into this tournament on the back of a strong campaign in Turkey for Fenerbahce, as he netted 11 goals in 32 games in all competitions, following a move from Mexican outfit Tigres UANL.

With his sights set on becoming the all-time top scorer, and the hopes of his nation largely on his back, Valencia will aim to inspire his side through the group stage with another strong set of performances, as he has so often done in important games for Ecuador.


MANAGER - Gustavo Alfaro

Ecuador come into this tournament with some renewed confidence, largely because of the positive change brought about by manager Gustavo Alfaro.

He was appointed in 2020, having had a mixed spell with Argentinian giants Boca Juniors, as he lifted the Argentine Super Cup but was unable to secure the league title.

By the time of his departure, Alfaro had overseen 50 games as Boca Juniors manager, winning 27 of those while losing just seven.

He returned to action last August with the Ecuador national side, and he has had a strong start to international management, having won four of his seven games in the hot seat including a landmark.

The highlight of his tenure so far was undoubtedly a landmark 6-1 win over neighbours Colombia in World Cup Qualifying action last year, and he will look to add more positivity with a run deep into the Copa America.


COPA AMERICA RECORD

Best finish: Semi-finals (1959, 1993)

Looking back into Copa America history, Ecuador are far from the most decorated side, having only reached the final four on two occasions.

In the first of those semi-final appearances, the Tricolor fell to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Brazil in 1959, before they suffered a narrow 1-0 loss at the hands of Colombia in the semi-final in 1993.

That game remained goalless until the 88th minute, but a late Adolfo Valencia winner stopped Ecuador from reaching their first final, and they still have not reached one to this day.

Recent history does not look good at all for Ecuador in the Copa America, having only qualified out of the group stage once since the turn of the century, as they made the quarter-finals in 2016 before being knocked out by a 2-1 defeat to the USA.

Without an abundance of fond memories in the continental tournament, the Ecuadorian fans will hope that this is finally the year that sees their side progress to the final and lift the trophy.


PREDICTION

Boasting a strong collection of players and a manager that has brought about a positive feeling, Ecuador should have more than enough to make it out of the five-team group, with four sides reaching the quarter-finals.

While we would expect them to struggle against Brazil and potentially fall to Colombia, Alfaro's men will definitely look to assert their dominance by beating Venezuela and Peru consecutively, which should set them up for a third-placed finish.

Given that they would then meet one of the stronger sides of the opposite group in the quarter-final, we see the Tricolor's journey ending there as they will likely face Uruguay or Argentina, but they should go home having restored some national pride and made it out of the group.

VERDICT: Quarter-finals body check tags ::

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Read more about Enner Valencia Agustin Delgado Gustavo Alfaro Alexander Dominguez Pedro Ortiz Hernan Galindez Xavier Arreaga Robert Arboleda Pervis Estupinan Luis Leon Alan Franco Felix Torres Angel Preciado Mario Pineida Diego Palacios Piero Hincapie Jhegson Mendez Christian Noboa Jose Carabali Moises Caicedo Angel Mena Gonzalo Plata Damian Diaz Ayrton Preciado Fidel Martinez Leonardo Campana Michael Estrada Jose Hurtado Jordy Caicedo Adolfo Valencia Richarlison Neymar Football
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