Through late April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Ecuador. Click here for the full archive.
FIFA world ranking: No. 39.
How they qualified for Germany: Finished 8-4-6 for third place in CONMEBOL qualifying, with the same point total as Paraguay but with a superior goal differential.
Previous World Cups: One appearance (2002). They were eliminated in the first round.
Manager: Luis Suárez, third year with squad.
Imposing striker Agustín Delgado is an irreplaceable figure in Ecuador's starting lineup, and his form will play an important part in determining whether his team will get beyond the first round. Although back problems have troubled him for much of his career, he has proven that he has what it takes to spearhead the side, having notched five goals in World Cup qualifying. "Tin" is Ecuador's main target man, and his powerful shot, combined with an awesome heading ability, is likely to unsettle opposing defenders.
Like Delgado, Edison Méndez scored five times in qualifying, and he has become an instrumental part of Ecuador's midfield -- in fact it was Méndez who scored in La Tri's only World Cup victory, over Croatia in '02. He is a very intelligent player who is generally responsible for the creative side of Ecuador's game. While his awesome vision triggers scoring opportunities for his teammates, his most notable attribute is his exceptional long-distance shot accuracy, whether off a free-kick or on the run.
What to watch for
Ecuador shocked South America by beating both Brazil and Argentina on its way to reaching its second successive World Cup. Suárez's side went undefeated at home during qualifying, due in no small part to the home-field advantage of Quito's high altitude (9,350 feet). Even so, La Tri is confident it can go beyond the first round for the first time, and the fact that more than half the side plays for dominant local club Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito significantly boosts its chances. Team unity, obviously, is this squad's main strength, but the side is also balanced and hard-working, with the potential to upset high-profile teams.
Although the Ecuadorians lack quality in certain aspects of their game, their main weakness is inconsistency, as they proved time and again in their qualifying campaign. Since securing a spot in Germany last October, they were thrashed 3-0 by Poland and 4-1 by local club Barcelona of Guayaquil .
Group: A (Germany, Costa Rica, Poland).
Key match in group stage: June 9 vs. Poland. Besides hosts Germany, the Ecuadorians have been matched up with relatively assessable sides in Poland and Costa Rica. Avenging the Poles in their first group match is crucial -- it should set them up nicely for the clash with the Ticos. If La Tri picks up a good result in that match, it should guarantee passage into the second round, no matter the result of its final group match against the Germans.