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

source:
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.

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.