Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Sixto the Magician
That's right. Sixto Vizuete, coach of the Ecuador national team. 5 qualifiers, 2 wins, 3 ties and 0 losses. Unbeaten against Argentina (in Buenos Aires, no less) and Uruguay (Montevideo). Things are farm from being over and there is still a lot of terrain to be covered in qualifiers. A game against Chile in Quito awaits "la tricolor" in October to close out the first 9 matches of the herculean 18 match road devised by Conmebol as a prelude to FIFA's World Cup. But why is it so important at this point? Well, the old order that included Reasco, De la Cruz, Kaviedes, Tenorio and Co. have stepped aside for a new group of players that have carried out a renaissance of Ecuador futbol. The same few that helped Liga de Quito to Ecuador's first Club Championship form the backbone of the team--from Urrutia to Bolanos to Cevallos and Guerron. Cevallos is actually a 37-year-old veteran of the 2002 campaign but has enjoyed renewed spirit and play, not to mention an uncanny ability to stop penalties.
Back to Vizuete. Here's a coach that came out of nowhere. He played for Deportivo Cotopaxi (didn't know they existed but apparently they were in Ecuador's first division for at least one season). He coached the youth systems of the ESPOLI team and then the U-17 national side. This is where it gets interesting, for after failing to enter the U-17 World Cup he coached the same team that won the Pan American glod medal and thus the first ever footballing title for Ecuador. Following that came his opportunity as interim head coach when Luis Fernando Suarez resigned after 3 straight losses and a goal differencial of -10. Suarez, coach of Ecuador in the 2006 qualifiers and the World Cup failed to earn a single point in 3 games in the Copa America in Venezuela 2007. Suarez was a good coach but very single-minded and uninventive when every team learned his scheme. The 2010 campaign with him was terrible in that he lost the opening match in Quito to Venezuela. Losses to Brazil (Rio) and Paraguay (Asuncion) were understandable but the margins were a bit ridiculous (5-0 and 5-1).
Enter Vizuete. 5-1 win against Peru with just two days from the resignation of Suarez and his last game with the team. He was given full coach status earlier this year. Then came a 1-1 in Argentina for a game they could have won in Buenos Aires before an unfortunate tying goal in the 4th minute of stoppage time. An unfortunate 0-0 followed against Colombia in Quito and my fears (and another 13 million's) arose again. But the past couple of games showed that he's a masterful tactician, at least for now, with impressive defensive performances. A goal differential of +6 under his tutelage doesn't hurt either. Added to that are 3 friendlies: 3-1 vs Haiti, 0-2 vs France (Paris) and 1-0 vs Colombia (New York). So for those nay-sayers out there, this coach has defeinitely played a good variety of foes and his only loss came against mighty France in Paris.
In short... I'm a fan. I hope to remain a fan. I'm still very doubtful about our chances for a direct entry into South Africa, but a 5th play-off spot against CONCACAF may be within our reach if the team continues to perform as it has for the last 5 matches.