QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda named three young Europe-based players in his 30-man preliminary squad for the World Cup on Wednesday.
Midfielders Carlos Gruezo and Renato Ibarra, and defender Christian Ramirez have all made the initial cut. Gruezo plays for Stuttgart, Ramirez is with Fortuna Duesseldorf and Ibarra is with Dutch club Vitesse.
“We are living a dream,” Ramirez said.
Ecuador, which is training in the Netherlands ahead of a friendly against the Dutch side on Saturday, is expected to name its final 23-man squad on May 23.
The South American team will be playing in its third World Cup. That achievement was overshadowed by the death of striker Christian Benitez midway through qualifying, and filling the void he left will be the team’s biggest challenge in Brazil.
The 27-year-old Benitez died of heart failure in Qatar on July 29, only three weeks after joining local team El Jaish. He was Ecuador’s star forward with 24 goals in 58 appearances.
Benitez was a contender for the “best young player” award at the World Cup in 2006 when Ecuador reached the round of 16, its best-ever World Cup performance. Without him, Ecuador will rely on Pachuca forward Enner Valencia.
Ecuador will face Switzerland, France and Honduras in Group E. The team opens against Switzerland on June 15 in Brasilia and is a clear contender in the wide-open group.
Goalkeepers: Alexander Dominguez (Liga de Quito), Maximo Banguera (Barcelona, Ecuador), Adrian Bone (El Nacional)
Defenders: Jorge Guagua (Emelec), Gabriel Achilier (Emelec), Oscar Bagui (Emelec), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona, Ecuador), Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Christian Ramirez (Fortuna), John Narvaez (Emelec)
Midfielders: Pedro Quinonez (Emelec), Luis Fernando Saritama (Barcelona, Ecuador), Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Segundo Castillo (Al-Hilal), Christian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse), Edison Mendez (Santa Fe), Oswaldo Minda (Barcelona, Ecuador), Michael Arroyo (Atlante), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana)
Forwards: Armando Wila (Universidad Catolica), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Cristian Penilla (Barcelona, Ecuador), Angel Mena (Emelec)