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FIFA World Cup Qualifying Preview: Colombia v Ecuador

4 September 2013 14:12

Ecuador will aim to record a poignant victory in their bid to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup when they meet Colombia on Friday.

The two sides will face each other in their return clash in Barranquilla, 15 months after the reverse fixture in which the late Christian Benitez scored the winner to give Ecuador a 1-0 victory.

Striker Benitez died suddenly on July 29 after suffering a cardio-respiratory arrest shortly after playing for his club side El Jaish in Qatar.

His death has hit the whole of Ecuadorian football hard, with national coach Reinaldo Rueda - who also recently lost his father - telling FIFA.com: "Dealing with the grief has been difficult, but you just have to keep going."

The clash with Colombia will mark the first time that the squad has gathered for World Cup qualifying action since Benitez's death, with Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia among the travelling party just a few weeks after taking to Twitter to express his sadness at the passing of his team-mate.

Along with Valencia, Rueda’s squad also includes Russian-based duo Cristian Noboa and Felipe Caicedo as well as Vitesse winger Renato Ibarra - who all joined up with the group on Monday after arriving from their respective clubs.

Striker Joffre Guerron, who plays for Beijing Guoan in China, has insisted that he and his team-mates will be doing everything they can to make their fans proud.

“We have a big commitment to the country and we will endeavour to achieve qualification,” he told local media.

Ecuador head into the clash third in the CONMEBOL qualification standings, five points ahead of Uruguay in the intercontinental play-off spot.

Colombia, meanwhile, are second in the group having lost only once in their qualifiers - against Venezuela - since that last meeting with Ecuador in Quito.

They have been boosted by the inclusion of Milan's Cristian Zapata, while Inter's Fredy Guarin and Monaco's James Rodriguez are also among Jose Pekerman’s squad.

Radamel Falcao, Colombia's top scorer in the qualifiers with seven goals, is a fitness doubt for the clash, though.

He suffered an ankle injury playing for Monaco on Sunday and will be assessed ahead of the match.

"We're going to go day by day trying to get him as fit as possible to see if he can get to the match," team doctor Carlos Ulloa told reporters.

With four games to go, Colombia sit three points behind leaders Argentina with a game in hand.

With the top four qualifying automatically for a place in Brazil in 2014, Pekerman’s side have their fate in their own hands.

Ahead of what could be a crucial fixture goalkeeper Camilo Vargas insists the squad are fully focused on their task.

"We look to Ecuador with great respect," he told Futbolred.com.

"They are our rivals at the top of the table. We have four games left and everyone’s objective is the World Cup."

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