Ecuador reach World Cup finals despite loss to Paraguay

Ecuador sealed their spot at the World Cup finals despite losing 3-1 at Paraguay on Thursday, and while the defeat was not the ideal way to secure qualification they have solidified their claim to being the fourth best side in South America.

The Andeans, who have qualified alongside regional powerhouses Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, have now qualified for four of the last six finals, a better record than the likes of Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru.

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They have recovered from the ill-timed appointment of Jordi Cruyff as coach, the son of Dutch legend Johan was given the job just before the COVID-19 pandemic upended world sport and never led the team in action, to prosper under Gustavo Alfaro.

Ecuador were absent from the 2018 finals in Russia but looked well set for Qatar after winning three of their first four qualifiers under Argentine Alfaro.

Quietly adding points throughout the gruelling 17-month long qualifying period, Ecuador lost back-to-back games just once, and were defeated at home on just one occasion.

Their tally of 26 goals, with one game still to go, is equal to their best ever in the qualifying rounds and only Brazil have scored more in the current campaign.

Former Boca Juniors coach Alfaro has a young and promising team, with Pervis Estupinan, Felix Torres and Michael Estada all having shone in qualifying.

As did Jeremy Sarmiento, 19, and Moises Caicedo, 20, who have been given little chance to impress at Brighton but have become important players for the national side.

Whether they can make any impact in Qatar remains a big question for a team that is clearly more comfortable playing at altitude at home. They have never gone past the last 16 at a World Cup.