International | Ecuador sets the tone against Bolivia at Red Bull Arena

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Credit: Alejandro Izurieta / @aleizphotos (IG)

It feels like Argentina’s triumph in Qatar was only yesterday. But believe it or not, preparations are already underway for the 2026 World Cup.

With most of the qualifiers worldwide beginning in September, the international friendlies in June are used as a base to plan ahead and define the squads that will be used to kick off the qualifying process. Manager Felix Sanchez will face two challenges against Argentina and Uruguay.

One is the reigning World champion, and the other just managed to create a lethal combination of youth and experience. Marcelo Bielsa inherits a new generation of Uruguayan players ready to continue with “La Garra Charrua” legacy.

However, Ecuador holds its own with enough credits. The first nation to ever defeat the host country in an opening match of a World  Cup tournament holds the most promising generation of talent up to date. With this in mind, the match against Bolivia not only showcased promising talent but it marked the beginning of the Road to a new dream that can bring them back to the ground that will surely feel like home, away from home.

Credit: Alejandro Izurieta / @aleizphotos (IG)

Perfect start despite a long road ahead

Red Bull Arena is supposed to be a neutral ground for international friendlies. But when it comes to Ecuador, the venue becomes a second home for them.

The Ecuadorian community came together from all over the tri-state area to support the national team. The stadium that’s typically red throughout the MLS season turned completely yellow to see talents like Moises Caicedo, Piero Hincapie, Gonzalo Plata, and Enner Valencia, to name a few. As I said before, expectations were high as this team had a decent run in Qatar, and most of their players are set for big moves in Europe during the summer.

The spotlight, however, was on Leonardo Campana. The striker was called up again by the new manager despite the negative opinions in terms of his form with the national team. It was the perfect chance for him to prove the doubters wrong and show that his club-level form is not a matter of momentum.

Credit: Alejandro Izurieta / @aleizphotos (IG)

Bolivia arrived alongside manager Gustavo Costas and striker Marcelo Martins in search of the formula that brings Bolivia back to winning ways. It was no easy task for either side, but it’s safe to say that the energy was there from start to finish.

Ecuador took control from the start with dominance from the wings. Gonzalo Plata showcased why he is one of the most dangerous players when he has spaces. His flair and speed were key to breaking Bolivia’s defensive line. Unfortunately, the problem arrived in the final third.

Ecuador created countless chances through the midfield and the wings, but the striker was nowhere to be found. While an argument can be made saying that Campana needs time to adapt to the national teams playing style, the outcome of the match canceled it out. In fact, there were moments where the absence of the attack was so noticeable the play often lost attacking purposes, and it returned to midfield. Bolivia held their own as much as possible with a few harsh fouls that eliminated the “friendly” aspect of the match. To be fair, though, the refereeing was questionable as well and didn’t help the match at all. Despite this, they were able to contain the flow in midfield and prevented Caicedo and Estupiñan from pushing forward. 

Leonardo Campana never ended up finding himself on the field and gave way for Ecuador’s all-time leading goal scorer to take the field. Manager Felix Sanchez also made way for a National team debut at Red Bull Arena.

Credit: Alejandro Izurieta / @aleizphotos (IG)

Midfielder Julio Ortiz, currently a midfielder playing for Independiente Del Valle enjoyed his first minutes with Ecuador substituting Alan Franco in the second half. Both substitutions made a quick impact and changed the team’s chemistry on the field. Enner Valencia took charge of that striker role, often dragging marks toward him in order for Gonzalo Plata or Ortiz to find the spaces.

A formula that saw results by the 69th minute after a high-pressing attempt by Ecuador in midfield. Gonzalo Plata was found unmarked and quickly passed it to Valencia, who had a clear shot at goal. The all-time leading goalscorer continues to add goals to his historical legacy at the international level. While there’s still a long way to go, he didn’t completely rule out his presence at the upcoming World Cup. “We’ll see,” said Valencia as he thanked the fans for the overwhelming support during the game.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows against Bolivia. Defender Piero Incapie suffered a foot injury that will have him sidelined for a short period of time. In addition, Campana’s performance might have probably sealed his future with the national team. Having an upcoming talent like Kendry Paez will be a challenge if he continues to miss these opportunities.

Nevertheless, there’s still a long way to go and Ecuador simply can’t miss out. Whoever they assign as their striker has to complement and bring their own style to the role. The team now prepares to face Costa Rica on Tuesday in a rematch from their 2006 match in the World Cup.

On a personal level, this was a dream come true for me. A kid born and raised in Ecuador went from playing with friends imagining to be those heroes at their first World Cup in 2002 to covering a new golden generation nearly 20 years later.

QUE VIVA EL FUTBOL