QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Reinaldo Rueda couldn't control the tears when Ecuador striker Christian Benitez died suddenly from a heart problem last July.
At the time, Rueda said Benitez was "irreplaceable" and dedicated World Cup qualification to him.
But while Rueda lamented the loss, the Colombian coach has come to believe that Ecuador can go to the latter stages of the World Cup, even without Benitez. And he is preparing to do just that.
"Like I always tell the players, I want to play seven games," Rueda said. "That is what I want at the World Cup."
Seven games, of course, would mean that Ecuador at least reaches the semifinals.
Rueda has experience at the World Cup after steering Honduras to its first tournament in 28 years in 2010. For that feat he received honorary citizenship from the Central American nation, despite the fact that Honduras did not win a match four years ago in South Africa.
Rueda restructured Honduran football at the grassroots level during his time in charge between 2007 and 2010. Some of the fruits were seen when Honduras reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics in London.
The Colombian bid a tearful farewell to Honduras in July 2010, indicating that the atmosphere surrounding the national team wasn't right for him to continue. He then took over Ecuador and guided the national team to its third World Cup, mainly due to winning 22 of a possible 24 points at home, with the matches played at high altitude in Quito.