The World Cup was usually seen as a stage very much beyond the scope of Ecuador. Except for 1966, they had never been able to challenge for one of the qualifying berths in the CONMEBOL zone. Between 1966 and the upcoming qualification, the team had recorded one measly win (v Paraguay at home in 1981).
There was a sense of unexpected, raw optimism in the Ecuadorian air, however, as they had just delivered one of their better performances in the Copa America in living memory. Although they once again had exited from the group stage, they had famously drawn against current World Cup champions Argentina (0-0) and won against Uruguay (1-0), and overall been unusually competitive. The win against later finalists Uruguay has later become part of Ecuadorian football folklore, often claimed to be a small turning point in the nation’s footballing history. Could they indeed replicate their performances in the upcoming 1990 World Cup qualification?
Dušan Drašković (1 April 1988– ) was given much credit for the recent success. He had been a head coach for various clubs in the Yugoslavian league in the 1980s, before suddenly finding himself installed as national team coach in another corner of the world. The background for this recruitment was a request sent from the Ecuadorian FA to their Yugoslavian counterparts, inquiring if they had any possible candidates for the vacant position. The choice had fell on Yugoslavia, as it had been the hope of the Ecuadorians that they could find someone able to follow in the footsteps of Vladica Popović, the Yugoslav coach who had acquired a big name in South America in the 1970s. The Copa América had been Drašković’ first big test, and the results had been above expectations.
The most notable thing with Drašković’ 4-4-2 formation is the use of two playmaker types in the wide positions in midfield. Both Alex Aguinaga and Hamilton Cuvi are players who have the skill to open up defences with their creativity and passing ability. To accommodate them both in the team and ensure enough defensive stability, Drašković has evidently chosen to play them as wide midfielders, with two more defensive-minded and hard-working players between them (Romero and Fajardo).
They are probably also one of the more direct teams in the CONMEBOL zone, and may attempt hopeful balls in the direction of the two forwards, who are likely to be Byron Tenório and the domestic league’s leading scorer Raúl Avilés.
Ecuador only conceded two goals in the Copa América, but did not always look that confident in their defensive work. Question marks must also be raised of how effectively the two central midfielders cover and shield the space ahead of the defence.
20.06.1989: Peru 2-1 Ecuador (neutral ground in Port of Spain, Trinidad&Tobago)
Line-up: Mendoza – Alcivar, Macías, Quiñónez, Capurro – Marsetti (Montanero), Fajardo (Avilés), Guerrero, Verduga (Muñoz) – Benítez, Tenório (Cuvi)
02.07.1989: Ecuador 1-0 Uruguay (Estádio Serra Dourada, Goiânia, Brazil)
Line-up (4-4-2): Morales – Izquierdo, Macías, Quiñónez, Capurro – Aguinaga (Marsetti 77), Fajardo, Rosero, Cuvi (c) – Tenório (Benítez 89), Avilés
04.07.1989: Ecuador 0-0 Argentina (Estádio Serra Dourada, Goiânia)
Line-up (4-4-2): Morales – Izquierdo, Macías, Quiñónez, Capurro – Aguinaga, Fajardo, Rosero, Cuvi (c) – Tenório (Benítez 76), Avilés. Unused subs: Mendoza, Quinteros, Montanero, Muñoz
After their late show in the opening fixture against a very strong Uruguay, the Ecuadorians were doing capably against one of the other among the continent’s big boys: Dušan Drašković’ compact 4-4-2 saw them shut the reigning world champions out, although there were a few scares, with both Izquierdo and Quiñónez saving on the goalline during a competitive opening period, when a long distance effort from the impressive Aguinaga was Ecuador’s best attempt. Capurro often came up against either of Caniggia or Maradona, and in addition to keeping his side spotlessly clean defensively, he contributed well coming forward. Classy full-back. Cuvi along the left tracks Clausen, and that pair, too, has an interesting battle going on. In midfield, Fajardo also came into contact with Maradona. Their front two, though, were stifled well by each their Argentinian centre-half. After the break, incidents were again rife, with Izquierdo firing a penalty well over after a Cuciuffo foul on Avilés, and then the Ecuadorians were fortunate as Argentina twice hit the woodwork: Clausen first, with Caniggia heading the rebound into the back of the net from an offside position, and then a late Maradona free-kick from range. Avilés, always on the run, could have won Ecuador the tie late on, when he latched on to substitute Benítez’ flick on, but he couldn’t get his effort on target. After more than five minutes of additional time, the referee finally brought the game to a halt. Capurro had got himself sent off for a punch in the back of the advancing Troglio midway through the second half. Rosero appeared to move back into defence, with only three in midfield thereafter.
06.07.1989: Ecuador 0-0 Bolivia (Estádio Serra Dourada, Goiânia)
Line-up: Morales – Izquierdo, Macías, Quiñónez, Alcivar (Benítez 61) – Aguinaga, Fajardo, Rosero, Cuvi (c) – Tenório (Marsetti 76), Avilés. Unused subs: Mendoza, Quinteros, Montanero
You’ll be pushed to find much in terms of footage from this fixture. Which only contrives to extend the level of myth around it. The Ecuadorians had done extremely well to earn three points from their encounters with Uruguay and Argentina, while the Bolivians had so far only played that one match (losing heavily to Uruguay). Ecuador were hardly building their game under Drašković on free-flowing attacking football, and their reluctance to find the back of the net came back to haunt them in what was clearly a winnable tie. The suspended Capurro had been replaced by Alcivar in an otherwise unchanged eleven. No goals. Four points from three matches.
08.07.1989: Chile 2-1 Ecuador (Estádio Serra Dourada, Goiânia)
Line-up: Morales – Izquierdo, Macías, Quiñónez, Capurro – Aguinaga, Fajardo (Montanero 45), Rosero, Cuvi (c) – Tenório (Benítez 59), Avilés. Unused subs: Mendoza, Quinteros, Marsetti
After their impressive campaign, Ecuador needed just a single point to advance through to the final phase of the tournament. This would take them past Uruguay, who had completed their fixtures, and who were on an identical points tally (4) with Ecuador, albeit with a stronger goal difference. Ecuador’s opponents Chile also had a chance to progress of their own, but they needed to win by a margin of at least three goals to overtake Uruguay on goal difference. The only footage available to us is a 26 minutes long resume from the second half, by which the Ecuadorians are already a goal down thanks to a late Chilean strike during the opening half. Left-back Capurro was back in again for Alcívar following his suspension, while the team otherwise remains unchanged. At half-time, Jimmy Montanero had come on for defensive midfielder Fajardo to make his first appearance of the competition. A straight swap among the strikers happened on the hour, with Benítez replacing Tenório. The Ecuadorians certainly threw every caution to the wind in search for that elusive equalizer; they were coming forward at will judging by the video material available. Rosero was set up by Aguinaga for a pop from 18 yards, but couldn’t hit the target, while Cuvi headed wide after a cross from Avilés. Then a Benítez header down saw Rosero arrive for a shot inside the area, but he could only strike well wide. Benítez saw a header tipped wide by Cornez following a cross from Cuvi, while the captain himself had an effort from deep inside the area blocked away for a corner. Aguinaga had seemed to be tripped inside the box by Hisis. It just wouldn’t happen, and then the inevitable: Chile doubled their lead following a Puebla cross for Letelier to head home. Avilés quickly halved the deficit, but with his right-foot strike occuring a minute from time, they ran out of time. They had conceded for the first time in the competition, and were ultimately out, finishing fourth when they could so easily have gone through. Could they shake this disappointment off in time for the start of the World Cup qualification?