FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Ecuadorian footballers of all time

As part of the countdown to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Ecuador.

As far as the World Cup is concerned, South American nation Ecuador are relative minnows.

They have qualified for the tournament on just two occasions, having played three group encounters in 2002, before going on to reach the last 16, where they were defeated by England four years later.

However, with football's biggest competition being held on their own continent this time around, the level of expectation on La Tri is likely to be greater than ever.

Here, to continue our countdown to the World Cup, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Ecuador.

10. Jose Villafuerte (1976-1985, 42 caps, four goals)

A real hero among the El Nacional faithful, midfielder Villafuerte scored a number of crucial goals during his stint with the Ecuadorian club in the 1970s and 1980s.

Along with centre-forward Ermen Benitez, the pair fired their team to titles in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983 and 1984.

Villafuerte struggled to replicate his goalscoring exploits in an Ecuador shirt, yet his energetic showings mean that he is still regarded to be one of his nation's best ever players.

9. Jose Cevallos (1994-2010, 89 caps, no goals)

Goalkeeper Jose Cevallos in action for Ecuador on April 24, 2001.© Getty Images

Nicknamed 'The Hands of Ecuador', Cevallos is regarded by many to be the best goalkeeper to have ever appeared between the posts for his country.

The now 43-year-old was one of the stars as Ecuador qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 2002 - a campaign that included Cevallos keeping a clean sheet during a 1-0 victory over five-time champions Brazil.

At club level, the custodian spent 16 years with Barcelona SC, before switching to Deportivo Azogues and then LDU Quito, who helped to win the Copa Libertadores by saving three penalties during a shootout in the final against Brazilian outfit Fluminense.

8. Ulises de la Cruz (1995-2010, 101 caps, six goals)

Ecuador defender Ulises de la Cruz battles for possession against South Korea on June 15, 2006.© Getty Images

Eight Ecuadorian footballers have plied their trade in the Premier League and De La Cruz is one of them. Having impressed during his one campaign with Hibernian in Scotland, the full-back joined Aston Villa in 2002. Then, after four years at Villa Park, he spent time with Reading and Birmingham City.

Prior to his move to England, the attack-minded defender won three Ecuadorian Serie A titles with LDU Quito, for whom he once scored a hat-trick during a 7-0 win over Emelec.

In terms of his contribution to the international team, only three of his compatriots can better his tally of 101 caps, four of which came during the 2006 World Cup.

7. Ivan Hurtado (1992-2010, 167 caps, five goals)

Ecuador defender Ivan Hurtado jumps for the ball against England striker Wayne Rooney on June 25, 2006.© Getty Images

Still playing in his homeland for Barcelona SC, it is widely accepted that Hurtado is the best defender to have pulled on Ecuador's yellow jersey.

Remarkably, the centre-back is one of the most-capped international footballers to have ever played the game. Only four footballers have represented their countries more than Hurtado, who retired from that level of football 17 appearances short of Egypt's record-holder Ahmed Hassan.

Although not a scorer of many goals, Hurtado had a habit of finding the net at important times, highlighted by his strike during the 1998 World Cup qualifier against Argentina in Quito.

6. Edison Mendez (2000-present, 108 caps, 18 goals)

Ecuador's Edison Mendez battles for possession against Argentina on March 30, 2004.© Getty Images

It would be fair to say that the mid-2000s was where Mendez truly flourished. For Ecuador, he scored five goals during the qualification phase for the 2006 World Cup.

His two assists as Ecuador reached the first knockout round in Germany captured the attention of numerous European clubs, before he eventually opted to join Dutch outfit PSV Eindhoven. During his time there, he won two Eredivisie titles, as well as becoming the first player from his country to score in the Champions League.

At present, his 108 outings in a yellow shirt makes him the third-highest appearance maker of all time

5. Agustin Delgado (1994-2006, 71 caps, 31 goals)

Former Southampton striker Augustin Delgado in action for Ecuador on March 28, 2001.© Getty Images

Southampton supporters may find it difficult to comprehend, but Delgado was a prolific scorer of goals for his country. Not only did he score nine goals in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, the centre-forward went on to become the first Ecuador player to score in the tournament when he found the net against Mexico.

He couldn't take that form to the South Coast with him, though, where injuries limited the number of appearances that he was able to make. Yet, he was still able to score the winner against Arsenal in the Premier League, as well as scoring against Liverpool in the League Cup.

Along with De La Cruz and Hurtado, Delgado is now a politician who stood in the Ecuadorian general election of 2013.

4. Alex Aguinaga (1987-2004, 109 caps, 23 goals)

Ecuador captain Alex Aguinaga dribbles with the ball on June 22, 2002.© Getty Images

Rumour has it that Aguinaga once turned down the advances of the likes of Real Madrid and Inter Milan to remain loyal to his Mexican employers Necaxa.

He'd spend the majority of his career with The Bolts, winning three Primera Division titles, as well as four separate cup competitions. His record of almost 100 goals from midfield means that he still regarded as a popular figure among the Necaxa faithful, despite the fact that he left in 2003.

He's also a hero in Ecuador, having captained the country to their first ever World Cup appearance in 2002.

3. Antonio Valencia (2005-present, 68 caps, eight goals)

Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia celebrates scoring for Ecuador on June 27, 2007.© Getty Images

In Europe, no Ecuadorian can match the profile that Valencia has made for himself. Having earned his stripes during a three-year stint with Wigan Athletic, the winger was signed by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson for a reported £16m in 2009.

Almost 200 appearances later, the 28-year-old has won the Premier League title on two occasions and the League Cup once, as well as appearing in the Champions League final at Wembley in 2011, although United were defeated 3-1 by a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona.

For Ecuador, Valencia made a perfect start to his international career, scoring twice in World Cup qualifier against Paraguay in 2005. It is expected that he will wear the captain's armband in Brazil.

2. Jorge Bolanos (1960-1969, 22 caps, one goal)

Having made his debut as a 15-year-old for Emelec, Bolanos went on to have a long and distinguished career in South American football.

Nicknamed 'The Kid', the attacking midfielder won a host of honours at club level, including four Ecuadorian Serie A titles with Emelec and Barcelona SC. It is believed that he was once courted by AC Milan, but a move to the San Siro never materialised.

Unfortunately for him, with Ecuador being a minor nation during his pomp, he was never able to represent them at key tournaments.

1. Alberto Spencer (1959-1963, 11 caps, four goals)

Many will argue that George Best is the best player to have never turned out at World Cup, while Ryan Giggs and more recently Gareth Bale are branded with that tag. Fans of Ecuador, though, believe that Spencer should be included within that category.

Famed for being prolific inside the penalty area, it was with Uruguayan club Penarol that he really made a name for himself, scoring a hefty 326 goals during his almost 10-year stint in Montevideo.

Such is the esteem that he is held in, he was once voted 20th in a list of all-time South American footballers - making him the highest ranked Ecuadorian on the selection, which was topped, unsurprisingly, by Pele.

Ecuador will face Switzerland, France and Honduras in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in the history of England tomorrow.

Who is the greatest Ecuadorian footballer of all time?

Alberto Spencer
Jorge Bolanos
Antonio Valencia
Alex Aguinaga
Agustin Delgado
Edison Mendez
Ivan Hurtado
Ulises de la Cruz
Jose Cevallos
Jose Villafuerte
Alberto Spencer
Jorge Bolanos
Antonio Valencia
Alex Aguinaga
Agustin Delgado
Edison Mendez
Ivan Hurtado
Ulises de la Cruz
Jose Cevallos
Jose Villafuerte
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