The cult of Antonio Valencia

 

 

Rarely in my travels have I seen such an obsession for one football player in Ecuador’s infatuation for Antonio Valencia.

 

The Manchester United right back/winger is lauded as “the best player in the world” up here in the Andes and receives the type of attention usually only reserved for Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

They are rightly proud of their man from Lago Agrio who rose from poverty to play for one of the biggest football teams in the world. It helps that by all accounts Valencia seems to be a very grounded and pleasant person.

In the national newspapers Valencia’s every match and any public utterance is covered in detail. The slightest hint of injury verges can create national panic, especially in the lead up to a World Cup qualifier.

Valencia’s career rise has not been meteoric but more measured progress. After climbing through the youth ranks and into the first team with Quito based El Nacional (The Ecuadorian army team of which Valencia was a soldier) , Antonio won a move to then Spanish giants Villarreal. With limited opportunity available at the Madrigal he was farmed out to Recreativo de Huelva then loaned and signed by Wigan in the EPL. After 3 years impressing for Wigan he was attracting attention from around Europe and particularly Real Madrid. However when Alex Ferguson came knocking he opted for Old Trafford and he has since cemented his place in Man U’s starting 11.

 

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In his 3 years in Manchester he has won the Premier League and League Cup and last year he was voted as Manchester United Players’ Player of the Year then rewarded with £80,000 four-year contract.

Ferguson obviously values his player citing, “Antonio is always very professional and a great human being. I’m very happy with him”

Similarly Ashley Young is glowing in his praise despite his competition for a place recently claiming

“’He attacks, he defends, he can shoot, he can cross, he can pass… he has it all and that’s why he scooped up everything at the end-of-season awards. It’s why the players voted for him and it’s why the fans voted for him”.

 

 

 

When it was announced that Valencia was to play as the No.7 for Man U, Ecuadorians immediately thought this was a further identification of the his greatness and an assimilation along with previous number sevens alike George Best and Eric Cantona. A typically humble Valencia accepted the honour with his usual grace.

Valencia has represented Ecuador a total of 54 times, scoring six goals. He played in all 4 of Ecuador’s games at the 2006 World Cup and garnered universal praise for his performances. Appearances in the Copa America and unsuccessful qualification campaigns followed but his performances have be rewarded with the captain’s armband.

When Valencia receives the ball in the Atahaulpa stadium there is a collective hushed mumble of “Antonio” in anticipation of some oncoming breath-taking skill. Unfortunately, rarely is there any Messi-esque magic but he often has a telling contribution for “El Tri”. Sometimes Ecuador’s over-reliance on Valencia has a detrimental effect on their pace based play and it becomes too obvious to the opposition.

In recent World Cup qualifiers the opposition have been wary of the Valencia effect and doubled up on him somewhat stymying his contribution. Luckily Ecuador has quality all over the park and Valencia can be used as a foil and play quickly switched to the left hand side through the likes of Saritama and Montero.

 

 

Valencia is fast and incisive but he is no playmaker. His lung-bursting runs and rapid counter attacks can severely test the best of wing backs.  He can chip in with the odd goal but is hardly prolific with an average of around one goal every 8 matches for club and country.

Valencia’s real strength is his overall ability. While some players are more gifted in specific skills i.e. tackling, free-kicks, close control, not many are proficient in all.

He is arguably the best right sided player in the EPL and while he is not as skilled as Barcelona’s Daniel Alves at right back his versatility makes him invaluable for club and country. There are few modern players who can flourish in a number of positions and for this reason Valencia is very special.

Off the field Valencia is also growing and becoming a lot more vocal in the media. Early in his career he was a very reserved and shy however recent months he has become more confident and controversial.

After last month’s qualifier against Uruguay when he was harshly red-carded in the dying minutes was scathing and incandescent with rage:

“This referee is a clown,” he said. “How come he didn’t give us that penalty? We are in Uruguay, we are not on another planet.

“He did the same in the last World Cup qualification campaign. He’s a disgrace, a total clown”.

A day later he was even more enraged when he had his camera stolen by the customs officials in Quito airport. This time his countrymen felt both barrels in a tirade in the media.

At 27 Antonio Valencia is entering his prime years as a footballer. By all accounts he lives a proper lifestyle and with Manchester United and Ecuador he should be competing at the very highest level for many more years.

If he can continue his career progression the maybe he will become, as many Ecuadorians already believe, one of the greatest footballers in the world.

 

Ecuador do just enough to win against Bolivia

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It was frustrating, edgy and nerve wracking but in the end Ecuador managed to secure a vital 3 points for their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Bolivia opted for a suffocating 4-5-1 and Ecuador found it difficult to break down their defensive wall however they were ultimately victorious 1 – 0 in a sweltering Atahaulpa Stadium.

Substitute Felipe Caicedo was the man who finally made the difference in the 71st minute. After wriggling through a couple of challenges he slipped the ball to Luis Saritama who was then bundled to the ground in the penalty box. The penalty award was harsh by Venezuelan referee Juan Soto but Caicedo coolly slotted past Hugo Suárez to claim the decisive goal.

As expected Reinalda Ruelda opted for a 4-4-2 formation replacing the suspended duo of Benitez and Noboa with Mina and Saritama.

Starting line-up for Ecuador:

                                                                        Alexander Domínguez
 
                                                                     Fricson Erazo          Jairo Campos  
              
                                 Juan Carlos Paredes                                                       Walter Ayovi
 
                              Antonio Valencia                   Segundo Castillo              Jefferson Montero
 
                                                                                       Luis Saritama
 
                                                                              Narciso Mina
                                                                                                               Jaime  Ayoví

Starting line-up for Bolivia:

                                                             Hugo Suarez

José Barba       Christian Vargas    R. Raldes        Luis Gutiérrez   Luís Méndez                                       

                                  Mauricio Saucedo    G. Mojica  Pedro Azogue           

                                                            José Chávez

                                                           Marcelo Moreno

Ecuador attacked from the outset and it was clear from the opening minutes that their attacks would come down each of the channels. Obviously aware of the threat of Antonio Valencia Bolivia opted to double up on the Manchester United winger which in turn provided more space for the marauding Paredes on the left.

Despite this it was on the right through Jefferson Montero where Ecuador had early success.

Montero was linking well with Saritama down the right hand side but his final balls were too far and wide for the attackers to meet. When he cut inside the defenders he was crudely challenged by Ronald Raldes then José Chávez both of which received early cautions 9 minutes in. The resulting free-kicks, just outside the Bolivian box were ballooned over the goals.

Ecuador were enjoying the lion’s share of possession and creating down the wings as the first quarter of the match passed but the final balls from both Montero, on the right and Paredes, on the left were often high and awry.

The Ecuadorian crowd rose from their seats in anticipation every time Valencia received the ball but apart from some nice switches to the right hand side his influence upon the game was very limited. Bolivia were crowding the midfield and stifling Ecuador’s pretensions with illegal challenges and Pedro Azogue was lucky not to go into the referee’s book after persistent fouls.

It made for a slow and uneventful first half, just what the Bolivians had hoped for.

On 34 minutes Ayovi was put through by Paredes but he scuffed his shot wide and as half time approached, Montero pulled up holding his hamstring ending his influence upon the game.

Half time brought welcome respite for all from the bleaching, Ecuadorian sun. In the first half the clouds had protected the Atahaulpa from the scorching rays but as the game progressed the heat became intolerable, for a Scotsman at least.

Both teams made changes for the 2nd half: Ecuador replaced the injured Montero with Michael Mina and Bolivia swapped Mauricio Saucedo for Alcides Jimenez.

Again Ecuador took the initiative and attacked through Paredes and Valencia. Twice and in two minutes Valencia did well to beat his marker and cross into the box each time the ball was too high for a proper connection by Ayovi.

Felipoa Caicedo

On 55 minutes Reinalda Ruelda changed Jaime Javier Ayoví Corozo for Felipe Caicedo, a decision that would ultimately change the match. Caicedo was more direct and willingly to take the ball into the centre and while his first few shot s were wild or blocked his incisive play contributed to Ecuador’s penalty on 71 minutes.

Taking the ball from the right hand side he dribbled past 3 players then laid the ball off to an onrushing Saritama who then seemed to run into Ronald Raldes. The referee deemed it to be illegal challenge and awarded a harsh penalty against the centre half.

The Bolivian’s were incandescent with rage and surrounded the referee in futile attempt to get the decision reversed, only managing to pick up yellow cards for dissent.

Caicedo stepped up and dispatched his penalty low to the left sending Suarez the wrong way and 35,000 crowd into rapture. On balance Ecuador had deserved their lead as Bolivia rarely threatened and seemed happy to spoil and defend.

Ecuador pushed for a second but Bolivia managed resist with some last ditch defending and clearances.

When Bolivia staged a late counter the crowd feared the worst but luckily the chance was wasted and Ecuador hung on to claim a deserved 3 points.

Ecuador will have to play better against Uruguay in Montevideo on Tuesday if they want to secure any points and preserve their 2nd position in the qualifying table. Added to which their national hero, Antonio Valencia will have to up his game as he was largely anonymous and heavy-legged for the majority of the match.

Although the defence were generally solid they had little to do against a stoic Bolivia. On the rare times that they were threatened the Ecuadorians sometimes looked indecisive, against Uruguay on Tuesday they cannot afford to be as lax. Christain Benitez will return on Tuesday giving Ecuador more of an attacking edge and attacking focal point.

Bolivia’s qualification chances look doomed already. Having played one more game than the rest and 6 points behind 5th place they will need some surprising results to move up the table.

The CONMEBAL qualifiers continue on Tuesday, when Chile take on Colombia, Uruguay host Ecuador, Paraguay play Venezuela and Peru face Argentina.

Ecuador name their team to face Argentina

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Reinaldo Rueda has announced his starting 11 for tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier against Argentina in Buenos Aires.

In defence Rueda has opted for the inexperienced trio of Gabriel Achilier, Jorge Guagua and Jayro Campos who have only 17 caps between them. In addition to this the goalkeeper, Alexander Domínguez also has only 2 international caps. The coach will be hoping that veteran Walter Ayovi is calming influence in the expected barrages of attack.

Ecuador’s real strength is in midfield and the creative influence and pace of Antonio Valencia and Christian Noboa, both of which have had impressive seasons in Europe.

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Goal scoring opportunities may be at a premium in the La Bombonera but luckily Ecuador have striker who is on fire at present. Christain “Chuco”Benitez has been a prolific goal scorer in Mexico’s Primera División for the past few years. Birmingham fans may not share this opinion but a tally of 73 goals 126 matches, in a competitive league holds up to scrutiny.

 

 

Alexander Domínguez (LDU Quito)

Jairo Campos (Barcelona/Ecua)       Jorge Guagua (Atlante/MX)

Gabriel Achilier (Emelec)   Walter Ayoví (Monterrey)

                                               

Segundo Alejandro Castillo (Pachuca)

        Christian Noboa (Dynamo Kiev)  

            Luis Fernando Saritama(Deportivo Quito)

Luis Antonio Valencia (Man Utd)        

                                                                                                               Jefferson Montero   (Real Betis)  

                                       Christian Benítez (Club America)

 

Tomorrow’s game will be Ecuador’s biggest test yet in the qualification campaign. As underdogs and facing an array of recognised superstars a draw in Buenos Aires would be considered a major triumph.

Bolivia managed to capture a 1-1 draw last November but it seems as if, with his more daring line-up Rueda expects more than to simply “park the bus”.

Reinaldo Rueda names his squad for Ecuadors double header.

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There were no major surprises in Reinaldo Rueda’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifying games. The attacking line will consist of players plying their trade in Mexico’s Premier Liga while Antonio Valencia, Renato Ibarra,Christian Noboa and Jefferson Montero provide the European experience after long seasons abroad.

 

 

 

Ecuadorian Squad for games against Argentina away (02/06/2012) and Columbia home (10/06/2012).

Goalkeepers

 Maximum Banguera (Barcelona) Adrian Bone (Deportivo Quito) Alexander Dominguez (Liga de Quito).

Defenders

Gabriel Achilier (Emelec) Walter Ayovi (Monterrey, Mexico), Diego Calderon (Liga Quito) Jairo Campos (Barcelona) Giovanni Espinoza (Deportivo Quito) Jorge Guagua (Atlante, Mexico) Juan Carlos Paredes (Deportivo Quito) Frickson Erazo (Barcelona).

 

 

MIDFIELDERS

Segundo Castillo (Pachuca, Mexico) Renato Ibarra (Vitesse, Netherlands) Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA-USA) Jefferson Montero (Villarreal, Spain) Cristhian Noboa (Dynamo-Russia) Pedro Quinonez (Emelec) Luis Saritama (Deportivo Quito), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, England) Edison Mendez (LDU Quito).

 

Forwards

 Jaime Ayovi (Pachuca, Mexico) Christian Benítez (America-Mexico) Joao Rojas (Morelia, Mexico) Christian Suarez (Santos-Mexico).

 

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