How Ecuador are relying on Brighton pair Moises Caicedo and talented Jeremy Sarmiento to secure World Cup qualification

BRAZIL and Argentina are safely through to represent South America at next year’s World Cup, and Ecuador are well placed to join them – with a bit of help from Brighton.

Four teams from the continent qualify automatically, with the fifth going into a play-off. And as it stands, with four rounds to go, Ecuador are solidly in third place.

They have a six point cushion over the chasing pack. The remaining fixtures are not easy. Ecuador pick up most of their points at home, but their only remaining visitors are Brazil and Argentina.

There is work ahead, but something will have to go badly wrong for Ecuador to be overtaken by two teams and miss out on automatic qualification – and disastrously wrong for them to be overtaken by three and miss out on fifth place.

The play off spot would seem to be the worst they can realistically expect for a campaign that has exceeded expectations – and where the first goal, and so far the last, were scored by a player on the books of Brighton.

Central midfielder Moises Caicedo is currently on loan at Beerschot in Belgium. But it will be a surprise if he does not return next season to become a key player in the Brighton line up.

He has been a key player for Ecuador ever since he was thrown into the deep end as a teenager when the World Cup qualifiers got underway.

He only turned 20 earlier this month, and when he glanced home from a free kick to open the scoring against Uruguay in October of last year he became the first player born in this century to score in South America’s qualifiers.

His virtues were better highlighted in the goal away to Chile last week that clinched a vital 2-0 win.

As part of the midfield press he helped win the ball, kept going and latched on to a pass to rifle past Claudio Bravo from the edge of the area.

Strong and athletic, Caicedo has the capacity to work box to box, finds cute angles with his passes and can burst beyond the strikers to finish.

He is an automatic choice for his country, and it can surely only be a matter of time and adaptation until he is making an impact in the Premier League.

His spell on loan has prevented Caicedo from teaming up at Brighton with his new international colleague, Jeremy Sarmiento.

Born in Spain to Ecuadorian parents, Sarmiento moved to England at the age of seven, and came through the ranks with Charlton Athletic.

He had a brief spell with Benfica before opting to join Brighton, by which time he had already played for England at Under-17 and Under-18 levels.

It seems, though, that he shared the dream of his father that he should play for Ecuador – who were delighted to welcome him aboard.

Ecuador rushed him into action in World Cup qualification before he could change his mind. Sarmiento made his debut off the bench in last month’s home win against Bolivia.

There was a huge fuss about the 19 year old attacking midfielder in the land of his father’s birth, and national team coach Gustavo Alfaro was sufficiently impressed to give him some serious responsibility.

Sarmiento started both World Cup qualifiers this month, wins at home to Venezuela and away to Chile.

With only Carabao Cup experience behind him this season he looked understandably raw, unsure at times of when to play the vital pass.

But, skipping across the field, his running with the ball is undoubtedly exciting and he was never overawed by the occasion. Brighton’s acquisition and Ecuador’s gain looks like England’s loss.

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