Two events, separated by only a few months, shaped the future of the Ecuadorian national team in 2019.
La Tri had just failed to secure a spot at Russia 2018, despite having won the first four matches of the South American qualifiers. After flying off the starting blocks, they faded badly and dropped out of contention on the penultimate matchday, an experience that mentally scarred players and fans alike. The embattled squad travelled to Brazil with the intention of going through a healing process at the Copa America, but the situation worsened, as they failed to win a single match.
A few months later, Ecuador’s U-20 side finished third at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019 – the country’s best-ever result in that age category. Impressive performers like Gonzalo Plata, Diego Palacios and Jose Cifuentes appeared mature beyond their years during the tournament. Suddenly, there were shoots of recovery, and the future looked bright.
But it was a future that required a new leader. Enter Gustavo Alfaro, who took charge just ten days before Ecuador’s first FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying match against Argentina. Hungry for success, Alfaro was keen to rebuild his reputation after a disappointing year with Boca Juniors. Selected for the job because of his proven ability to construct teams with limited resources, the Argentinian appeared to be the ideal appointment, capable of putting together an effective side despite limited time working with his charges.
After weeks of analysis prior to taking up the reins, Alfaro and his backroom staff arrived in Quito with one guiding belief, that Ecuador required a generational shift if they were going to qualify for Qatar 2022. During their research, they had observed that the nation’s top footballers were no longer shining in Europe, and were now playing in less demanding leagues. A change was needed, and so Alfaro and his colleagues began travelling all over the country in search of hidden gems, watching as many matches as they could in local stadiums.