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Soccer-Ecuador count on wingers for World Cup challenge

Reuters

By Rex Gowar

LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - Ecuador will put their wingers to the test in a World Cup warm-up against fellow finalists Australia in London on Wednesday as coach Reinaldo Rueda looks to exploit the country's natural flair on the flanks.

"Ecuador have that gift, they have men who can tip the balance on the wings," Rueda told Reuters as he prepared his team for their first match of the year at Millwall's New Den stadium.

"It's a culture the players pick up from when they are young and it's one of Ecuador's best options (in attack)," Rueda said in an interview at the team's hotel overlooking the River Thames.

Jefferson Montero, now playing for Morelia in Mexico after a spell at Real Betis, is outstanding on the left with Manchester United's Antonio Valencia, a veteran of the 2006 finals, bringing greater experience to the side on the right.

"Montero's got excellent skills, let's hope he becomes more consistent, there are some tactical matters he can improve," said Rueda, who is going to his second successive finals in Brazil after steering Honduras to the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

"He's the kind of player spectators love to watch because he plays like a kid in the street, daring, throwing opponents off balance.

"If he improves some small things (in his game) he's going to be a great player."

Ecuador's wingers used to provide ammunition for Christian "Chucho" Benitez before the striker, who had spells at Birmingham City and Mexican outfit America, died suddenly of heart failure at 27 in Qatar last July.

"It's been difficult to replace a player of Christian's dimensions because of his goalscoring capacity, his mobility, all he meant for us," Rueda said.

"We've sought alternatives, we've tried with young Enner Valencia, who is the new striker who played in the last qualifiers.

"He gives us other options but we've got to adapt because Benitez was unique and irreplaceable, especially for his scoring."

Felipe Caicedo played an important part in the qualifiers and finished as Ecuador's top scorer with seven goals in the South American group.

"Felipe is more of a (penalty) area man, a pivot but not the man to replace Chucho," Rueda said.

He added that against Australia he would be looking mainly to assess the form of the players from the domestic league with the season in Ecuador having just begun.

"We're getting the squad together for the first time in three months and it will be interesting to evaluate the form of the players who have just started the Ecuadorean championship," he said.

"How they play for their clubs is not always the same as in the national team so it's good to meet again to refresh our tactical ideas."

Ecuador have won only one of their last 10 matches, 1-0 at home to Uruguay in their penultimate qualifier in October. They drew 0-0 with Argentina and 2-2 with Honduras in friendlies in the United States in November.

Ecuador, unlike Rueda, missed the South Africa finals four years ago after playing in Korea/Japan in 2002 and Germany in 2006, where they reached the second round.

Ecuador's three Group E rivals in Brazil - France, Switzerland and Honduras - all had the experience of playing in the 2010 tournament.

Rueda considers this important and has been working to overcome it.

"We've improved but not reached an ideal precisely because of the (lack of) experience, there were results that could have been better if we'd had defenders with more experience in closing out matches at the right time."

The finals kick off on June 12. (Editing by Toby Davis)

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