Ecuador is back in the World Cup after missing out four years ago, and its first challenge is Switzerland. The match will take place on Sunday in Brazil's capital, Brasilia.
Reinaldo Rueda, currently Ecuador's manager, took Honduras to South Africa in 2010. Honduras wasn't able to score a single goal during the tournament, as Rueda's tactics focused more on defense and the team’s main striker was injured.
They did, however, manage to draw a game. That draw came against Switzerland—the last game of the group stage—and it left the European squad with no chance of advancing to the second round.
Ottmar Hitzfeld is taking Switzerland to its second World Cup in a row, and he will certainly be looking to get even with his opponent.
Hitzfeld had a dream start with the Swiss in South Africa, defeating the European champions and eventual World Cup winner Spain, but they were then eliminated in the group stage. The German-born manager hopes to triumph in his third try with the Swiss after disappointing in 2010 and failing to qualify for Euro 2012.
Rueda vs. Hitzfeld may not be a mainstream battle between coaches, but it's building its own history. The following key matchups will shape the opening game between these two national teams:
Christian Noboa has become essential for Ecuador's midfield. He plays in the middle, containing rivals as they transition in the midfield zone. He is also vital to starting Ecuador's attack.
Noboa will fight for control of the midfield against the Swiss central midfielder Gokhan Inler.
Control of the central midfield area doesn't necessarily mean that the team with the most possession will win the battle.
Ecuador is designed to counter-attack, and it isn't likely that Rueda will change strategies against Switzerland. Noboa's personal battle will be won if he can contain Inler's influence on the Swiss offensive game; however, it doesn't end for him there, as he also has to lead in the quick counter-attacks.
On the other side, Inler will have to take risks and get creative with the ball. The Napoli midfielder must avoid getting frustrated if minutes go by without clear chances to score. Patience could be Inler's best friend as he reads Ecuador's game.
The left wing of the South Americans is essential to Ecuador's attacking power. Considering that Ecuador star man Antonio Valencia plays on the right wing, he will take some of the focus from Walter Ayovi and Jefferson Montero, allowing them to break through the European defense.
Ayovi and Montero will try to be the association owning the left wing, guarded by Swiss right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Ayovi is a multifunctional player who can play as either a left full-back or a left midfielder. Wherever he plays, he will give freedom to Montero, who won't have to worry about coming back.
Ayovi is a strong physical defender when required, but he is also a smart player on offense. Montero is a very talented player who can combine speed and skill, a perfect weapon in Rueda's counter-attack strategy.
The Swiss will rely on Juventus defender Lichtsteiner to stop the Ayovi-Montero threat. Lichtsteiner's best bet will be not just to contain the Ecuadorians but also to become a worry for Ayovi and Montero when adding himself into the European attack.
The right wing of Ecuador has an owner—none other than Manchester United's Valencia. His characteristics as a skilled and fast player are key, much like Montero's role on the left.
Valencia is the soul and leader of Ecuador, so his performance will impact the entire game. The man Valencia faces will likely be right full-back Ricardo Rodriguez from the Swiss golden generation, who won the U17 World Cup in 2009.
The young Wolfsburg defender is up to a challenge that if he is successful at, Switzerland's chance of winning is considerably higher.
Finally, for Switzerland to beat Ecuador, Xherdan Shaqiri will need to find vulnerability in the South American back line.
Shaqiri must confront the Ecuadorian defenders as often as possible. If he beats the defenders, he will break the order in Ecuador's defense. That's where Switzerland's chances to score will appear.
Shaqiri will also have the responsibility of wearing out the rival's defense, which will only happen if he constantly participates in the match. Keeping Ecuador's defense busy means its upper lines will have to pull back, thereby reducing the effectiveness of their counter-attacks.
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