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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 06:24 GMT 07:24 UK
South American World Cup view
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Ecuador's players celebrate Augustin Delgado's goal against Costa Rica
Ecuador have been one of the shocks of the tournament so far

My BBC debut, nine years ago, was a radio piece for the World Service on the rise of Ecuador.

They were unlikely to make it to France '98, I argued, but were a growing force and a good bet to feature at future World Cups.

If only all my predictions turned out so well. Ecuador's is a remarkably recent rise.

They only took part in the Copa America in the 15th version of the tournament, in 1939, and it took them a staggering 34 games to register their first victory in the competition.

They were nothing but whipping boys until the 1989 version, when they suddenly emerged to beat Uruguay and draw with reigning world champions Argentina, Maradona and all.

Since then two factors have been fundamental in transforming them from the shock side in the Copa America to the shock side in the World Cup.

First, from the France '98 campaign onwards, South America adopted the marathon format of World Cup qualification, with all 10 nations playing each other home and away.

It gave them what European national teams take for granted - regular competitive matches, with the consequent possibility of building and maintaining a settled side.

Before this format was adopted Ecuador had only ever won five World Cup qualifiers. They won six in the France '98 campaign, missed out on a place in the finals but have not looked back since.

A good team is one which attacks and defends well down the flanks

Luis Suarez

The second factor is the appearance of a succession of quality foreign coaches to take charge of the national team.

This has been vital in two aspects. First, Ecuadorian football suffered for decades from the fierce rivalry between the country's two major cities, the Pacific port of Guayaquil and the mountain capital of Quito.

It has proved much easier for a foreigner to stand outside local pressures and unite the nation. Also, the foreigners have all added something.

At the start of the last decade Montenegran coach Dussan Draskovic groomed a group of players who could compete in physical terms.

Subsequently a line of Colombians have put the stress on technique and tactics. Just how far they have come was evident from their 3-0 win over Costa Rica.

Ecuador coach Luis Suarez
The appointment of Colombian coach Suarez has proved vital

The game was a little bit like time travel. Costa Rica still play genuine old-style Latin American football - tip-tap, short passes, slow build up with everything going through the number 10. It was like watching Ecuador of 15 years ago.

It is a style, though, that Ecuador have moved right away from. Coach Luis Fernando Suarez believes that the physical development of the game has made this style redundant.

"Nowadays," he says, "any side can complicate matters by packing the midfield with battlers. A good team is one which attacks and defends well down the flanks."

It is a quote which explains the team.

In central midfield, Castillo and Edwin Tenorio are a feisty pair. They saw off Poland's playmaker Szymkowiak in the first game and did the same to Costa Rica's Centeno in the second.

And once the ball is won Ecuador look to break at pace, throwing the full-backs forward to link up with two wide midfielders and ensure a supply for their burly strikers.

All of their goals so far have come from balls played in from the right.

The secret is out and the surprise is over. Come the knock-out stage, Ecuador's opponents know what to expect.

The Suarez talk of fighting for the title surely has more to do with motivating his men than with a realistic appraisal of their chances.

But even if their World Cup run comes to an end sooner rather than later, Ecuador can go home happy.

In Germany 2006 they have maintained their momentum and established their global credibility - which comes at a price. In South Africa 2010 good results will no longer be an unexpected bonus.



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