2014 World Cup team preview: Ecuador

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Getting to know… Ecuador: The South American nation have qualified for two of the last three World Cups but it has been eight years since they graced the worlds biggest stage. In 2006 they reached the knockout stages for the only time in their history, losing to England 1-0 in Stuttgart in the round of 16. The mountainous nation has some of the highest soccer stadiums on the planet and the national teams home in the capital Quito is a fortress. They only dropped two points at home during the entire 2014 qualifying campaign.

Record in qualifying: Ecuador finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying and secured the final automatic spot to the World Cup on goal differential. In their pivotal final match of qualifying they played direct rivals Uruguay and won 1-0 to seal their spot in Brazil. They won seven of their eight home games and were undefeated in Quito, as they racked up 25 points to join Argentina, Colombia and Chile in the top four.

What group are they in? The Ecuadorians are in Group E and will fancy their chances of advancing to the last 16 as at least the runner up. Switzerland, France and Honduras stand in their way and bearing in mind this tournament is on their home continent, Ecuador will have plenty of support and feel right at home in Brazil. They need to get off to a fast start vs. Switzerland and ride that momentum into the game vs. Honduras. Having France last could be a tough proposition if they need a win.

Game schedule:

15 June, Brasilia, 12:00 – Switzerland vs. Ecuador

20 June, Curitiba, 18:00 – Honduras vs. Ecudador

25 June, Rio de Janeiro, 16:00 – Ecuador vs. France

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Valencia will captain Ecuador at the World Cup.

Star player: Antonio Valencia

The Manchester United winger is the skipper of the Ecuadorian team and will be their leading man in Brazil despite a bad season with the Red Devils. Valencia offers consistency on the flank and can whip in some delicious deliveries for the likes of Felipe Caicedo and Enner Valencia to attack. Antonio played in the 2006 World Cup and shone for Ecuador as a 20-year-old en-route to making the last 16. Full of pace and power, expect Valencia to lead by example.

Manager: Reinaldo Rueda

A coach who is no stranger to coaching national teams, Rueda led Honduras to the 2010 World Cup finals and also helped turn around the fortunes of Colombia. He played a pivotal role in developing strong youth teams for Colombia and since taking over as Ecuador’s boss in 2010 he has forged a strong bond with his players. Rueda is highly thought of on South America and seems to get the best out of his players. Facing his old side Honduras could be an advantage as he knows their side extremely well.

Secret weapon: Team spirit and togetherness

Forged through tragic adversity, Ecuador’s squad are closer than perhaps any side heading to Brazil. Last summer they had to deal with the shock death of forward Christian Benitez as he collapsed whilst playing in the United Arab Emirates. Benitez’s memory lives on and Ecuador’s players were determined to make the World Cup and his honor dream of playing in the 2014 tournament. Expect that emotional bond to be prevalent throughout their squad as they do their utmost to make their fallen brother proud.

Prediction: Ecuador will be hoping to use their knowledge of South America count and adapt to the conditions and style of play in the tournament better than the other three teams. If they qualify from the group that will be deemed as a success, but with a squad full of players that already has one World Cup under their belt for the most part, they will be looking to better their last 16 appearance from ’06.

WATCH: Video Assistant calls back Griezmann goal

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France and Spain used the Video Assistant Referee program on Tuesday in a friendly, and the French likely rue that decision.

Antoine Griezmann had an incorrectly allowed goal reverse for offside, while Gerard Deulofeu saw an initially ruled offside goal allowed upon review in Spain’s 2-0 win over France.

[ MORE: Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina ]

Here’s an example, as Griezmann’s barely offside goal was overturned in less than a minute (Both calls took less than a minute to decide):

At the risk of sounding like a caveman, I really don’t like these razor thin offside calls being subject to review.

When you consider the improbability of timing the moment of contact with the ball — how many times have you seen a freeze frame conveniently used to make a case? — it just seems to mess with the spirit of sport.

What do you think?

Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina in World Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
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Argentina took steps backward Tuesday in its pursuit of a 2018 World Cup berth, on and off the field.

It started as Lionel Messi was suspended four matches for verbally abusing a referee in Argentina’s Friday win over Chile.

Then La Albiceleste made another move in reverse with a shocking 2-0 loss to Bolivia in La Paz. Argentina started Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, and Ezequiel Lavezzi on the bench in what many presumed to be an easy win.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Martins scored as ninth-place La Verde picked up its third win of qualifying with a win over powerful Argentina.

The bad news kept coming for Argentina (and Everton), as Ramiro Funes Mori left the match in the 36th minute with injury.

Bolivia will finish the international break at least 10 points back of the playoff spot, while Argentina could finish as low as that fifth-place spot.

STREAM: CONCACAF tripleheader concludes with USMNT

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico

El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.

Panama vs. USMNT

Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.

AFC and Oceania wrap: Iran, New Zealand take next steps

Photo by Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images
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With CONMEBOL and CONCACAF serving as the main course later Tuesday, the morning and afternoon saw big World Cup qualifiers on the other side of the world.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Asian qualifying

Iran is on the verge of qualification for Russia 2018 after Persepolis star Mehdi Taremi bagged his ninth international goal in a 1-0 home win over China.

Iran leads Group A by four points, but second-place South Korea and third-place Uzbekistan kept pace with 1-0 home wins of their own. Hong Jeong-ho scored in South Korea’s win over Syria, while Odil Ahmendov’s 65th minute free kick was enough to push Uzbekistan past Qatar.

The goalkeeping was… less than ideal.

Over in Group B, shutouts were the name of the game for high-powered hosts as well.

Japan stayed atop the group with a 4-0 win over Thailand, as a trio of players with Premier League experience — Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki — joined Gent’s Yuya Kubo on the scoreboard.

Saudi Arabia is level with Japan on points thanks to Yahya Al-Shehri’s post-halftime goal in a 1-0 win over Iraq, while Australia saw off United Arab Emirates thanks to goals from Burton Albion’s Jackson Irvine and Ingolstadt’s Mathew Leckie.

That leaves Australia three points behind Saudi Arabia and Japan in the race for two of three automatic spots. The Socceroos hosts the Green Falcons in June before an August trip to Saitama in a pair of matches which will decide who goes directly to Russia and who has to win a pair of playoffs: One against the Group A’s third-place team and another against CONCACAF’s fourth place side.

Oceania qualifying

New Zealand took the next step in collecting Oceania’s berth in the intercontinental playoff with a 2-0 win over Fiji in Wellington. PEC Zwolle winger Ryan Thomas bagged a brace for the All Whites.

New Zealand will next face either Tahiti, Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea over two legs in late August and early September for the right to battle the fifth place CONMEBOL team for a World Cup berth. That could be Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, or even Colombia.

Tahiti hosts Papua New Guinea at 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday, and will be the odds-on favorite to face New Zealand with a win.