QUITO - A quick look at Ecuador's World Cup qualifying campaign would lead to the conclusion that their biggest strength was playing home matches at high altitude in Quito.
Generally regarded as the weakest of South America's six representatives, Ecuador won seven games and drew one at the Atahualpa, their mountain fortress at 2,800 metres above sea level, while on the road they managed only three draws and five defeats.
Coach Reinaldo Rueda, however, is having none of it, saying there is much more to his team than just a piece of geographical fortune. "Ecuador qualified because we have good players working well, not because of altitude," he said.
The Andean nation had never played at the World Cup until making their debut in 2002, yet have now qualified for three of the last four tournaments.
On all three occasions they have been led by coaches from neighbouring Colombia, firstly Hernan Dario Gomez, then Luis Fernando Suarez and now Rueda.
This time, they overcame tragedy on the way when striker Christian Benitez, who scored in three qualifiers, died of a heart attack in Qatar where he was playing his club football.
The 27-year-old passed away in July last year, little more than one month after playing in the qualifier away to Peru which turned out to be his final game. "Christian will always be in our hearts and our minds, wherever we go," said captain Antonio Valencia after they clinched their place in Brazil.
Ecuador's greatest strength is on the wings with Manchester United's Valencia marauding down the right and the electric Jefferson Montero on the left.