The hard part is over. Ecuador has made it back to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year.
Head coach Gustavo Alfaro has managed to take his team, the youngest in South America, back to FIFA’s premier tournament despite suffering a 3-1 away defeat to Paraguay last Thursday.
Results elsewhere ensured that Alfaro’s men won’t mind their loss too much, as the bulk of their hard work had already been done earlier in the campaign anyway.
Historic wins, first a 6-1 mauling of Colombia, and then a historic first away victory in Chile, were hallmarks of qualifying.
Ecuador were only beaten once at home during CONMEBOL play, notorious for being the hardest confederation to qualify from. Their 26 goals during the qualifying round were second only to Brazil and a big reason La Tri will be going to their fourth World Cup out of the previous six.
But after missing out on the 2018 edition, and the country being so close to qualifying for various match days, 18 million Ecuadorians were urging their countrymen forward. Stuck on 25 points since last February’s draw against Peru, there was still the feeling in the air that perhaps something could go wrong yet again.
And that’s where they got some help.
An Uruguay win over Peru would make it mathematically impossible for Ecuador to not qualify.
This is why, even after Ecuador’s defeat against Paraguay, there was cause for celebration. Aside from the revelry, there is a palpable sense of relief, yet defiance, among the citizens of the small nation.
🔥 ¡Gracias Tri por esta alegría interminable!
🥰 Por estas lágrimas. Por el festejo del pueblo ecuatoriano en las calles. Por los que apoyaron desde el inicio, incluso los que ya no están en este mundo (los recordamos con respeto y cariño).#JuntosAQatar🇪🇨 pic.twitter.com/GmNWNqVkFK
— La Tri 🇪🇨 (@LaTri) March 25, 2022
Relief at having qualified. And defiance to show what they can do.
Nothing to Lose
Alfaro, an Argentine, will now lead the country he took to the promised land against the nation of his birth.
Tuesday’s final matchday of CONMEBOL action will see Ecuador face off against Argentina at home in the city of Guayaquil. Having qualified at least two matchdays ago, Argentina is, as is customary, a force to be reckoned with. Only Brazil has been in better form on the continent.
Yes, they have some guy named Lionel Messi and one of the most stacked teams in the world, but it shouldn’t matter.
Ecuador has a unique opportunity today.
🔥 ¡Hoy juega nuestra Selección mundialista!
🏟 Estadio Monumental
🗓 Fecha # 18
— La Tri 🇪🇨 (@LaTri) March 29, 2022
There is absolutely nothing to lose.
Since Ecuador has already qualified, they shouldn’t be afraid to be free with their game and take the fight to Argentina. Alfaro’s younger players like Piero Hincapie and Gonzalo Plata will have to start testing themselves against the best sides in the world and believing they can match up technically and tactically, and there is no better time than now.
Everything in its right place
The conditions are perfect as well. La Tri is at home in one of the biggest stadiums in the country holding around 70,000 people in what should be a party atmosphere, no pressure to qualify, and Alfaro has most of his squad at his disposal to choose his best 11 from.
A defeat will matter little in the long run, but a victory would be another historic moment in a very memorable qualifying campaign. It would also represent a landmark victory over an elite side in the buildup to a potentially federation-altering tournament.
No matter what happens today, Ecuador is already proud.
The hard part is over.
Ecuador has qualified for the World Cup in Qatar.
Now, show them what you can do!