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Last Updated: Monday, 28 April, 2003, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Ecuador start European quest
By Tim Vickery

Edison Mendez
Edison Mendez is seen as the future of the Ecuador team

Spain take on Ecuador this Wednesday in Madrid.

For the hosts it is just another international friendly. For the visitors it means much more.

Before last year Ecuador had never played a full international match in Europe.

Qualifying for their first World Cup did wonders for the profile of Ecuadorian football.

Suddenly people in Europe were curious to see the team which had finished second - ahead of Brazil - in South America's World Cup qualifying table.

As part of their World Cup build-up Ecuador finally made the trip across the Atlantic to play senior international friendlies, beating Turkey and drawing with South Africa.

There was nothing wrong with the results - six months later the win over Turkey looked like a very fine result indeed - but even so there was something missing.

Both games had been held on neutral ground. The match against Turkey was in the Dutch town of Breda and the South African game took place in the provincial Spanish city of Murcia.

This is the former colonial power and the ex-colony meeting on equal terms

This time it is for real. Now Ecuador travel to face a European giant in its very capital city.

It is true that they played a friendly last year against Atletico Madrid in the Vicente Calderon stadium, the venue for Wednesday's game.

But this is different. This is country against country, the former colonial power and the ex-colony meeting on equal terms. There could even be parity in the stands.

Thousands of Ecuadorians have migrated to Spain in search of work. A fair percentage of them will be in the stadium to cheer on their team and wave their flag.

Will there be parity on the pitch? It might only be a friendly, but coach Hernan Dario Gomez and his men need to be able to come away from Madrid with their heads held high.

After coming through their first World Cup with considerable credit, the key now for the Ecuador national team is to keep the momentum going.

The next set of World Cup qualifiers get under way in South America in under five months.

Ecuador coach Hernan Dario Gomez
Coach Gomez has transformed the Ecuador side

Nobody will be underestimating Ecuador this time, and a good display against one of the top European nations will fill them with heart for the challenges ahead.

Europe is the supreme test for the Ecuadorian player. As recently as 20 years ago no player from the country had ever played for a European club.

Ermen Benitez became the first in 1986 when he joined Spanish second division side Jerez da La Frontera, but it did not exactly open the floodgates.

An Ecuadorian has still to really make a mark in European football, a fact which is the subject of a lively debate among sports psychologists in the country.

From the current team there seems little doubt that midfielder Edison Mendez is good enough to play for any club in the world.

Mendez scored the goal that brought World Cup victory against Croatia last year.

With some of the senior figures in the side reaching the end of their careers, Mendez will be expected to take on extra responsibility as the Ecuador team enters this new phase.

The objective, of course, is qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Coming away from Madrid this week with their self-esteem enhanced will help them along the way.

And then maybe in three years time Ecuador will be back for their first competitive games on European soil.




SEE ALSO
Brazil versus the rest
21 Apr 03  |  Football

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