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Ecuador: the history makers
Ecuador is a country of oil, emeralds and bananas. It is also a point of reference for the rest of the world, hence the equator. What it has never been, however, is a land of footballing opportunity.
That changed on November 7, when Ecuador reached the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time. The history-defying moment came with a 1-1 draw against Uruguay - and despite an apparently modest set of players and the less-than-confident murmurings of their Colombian coach, Hernan Dario Gomez. At the start of the 2002 qualifying campaign, not even the most chauvinistic local commentator would have predicted Ecuador going to Japan and Korea. Gomez's team began accumulating points alright, but you could have put that down to their home advantage high in the Andes.
So it was only when they set off on a run of five straight wins - against Chile (1-0), Venezuela (2-1), Brazil (1-0), Paraguay (2-1), and Peru (2-1) - that eyebrows (not to mention roofs in the capital Quito) started to be raised.
Just as impressive was the manner of their victories: Ecuador were down to 10 men when they came from behind to beat Paraguay and Peru. The reward for such displays of character was a leap of 33 places in the FIFA world rankings, from 71st to 38th.
Yet Ecuador, traditionally the poor relation of South American soccer, had been on the rise since 1989, when Montenegrin Dusan Draskovic took over as national coach.
Among his proteges was striker Agustin Delgado, who finished joint top scorer in the Conmebol section alongside Hernan Crespo. "Tín's" goals helped secure a move to English Premiership club Southampton, as well as hero status.
Just as valuable, however, were the contributions of his team-mates: Cevallos (Barcelona); De la Cruz (Hibernian, Scotland), Guerron (Deportivo Quito), Hurtado (La Piedad, Mexico), Poroso (Emelec); Tenorio (Aucas), Obregon (Delfin), Aguinaga (Necaxa, Mexico), Cleber Chala (Nacional); Ivan Kaviedes (Celta Vigo, Spain).
Ecuador will be hoping for more of the same this summer.
Significant past players:
-- Copa America fourth place 1993
-- FIFA World Youth Championship 2001, last 16
-- 2002 FIFA World Cup second in South American qualifying group
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