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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 05:20 GMT 06:20 UK
Ecuador's World Cup blues
Italy's Fabio Cannavaro is challenged by Ecuador's Carlos Tenorio and Agustin Delgado
Ecuador's Carlos Tenorio and Agustin Delgado
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Taking on Italy in their World Cup debut was a bridge too far for Ecuador.

Even so, they can be proud of their efforts to span the divide.

Ever since the draw last December there was a nagging doubt in Ecuadorian minds.

How could their defence possibly hold Christian Vieri? It was soon clear that they could not.

The Inter Milan striker was too strong and too fast.

Dreams of easing their way in to the match and the tournament were shattered as they quickly found themselves two goals down.

For a while it seemed that the game might get out of hand.

Ecuador were rocked by their disappointing start.

The bird man of Ecuador
Ecuador's bird man watches Italy snare his side

They were also upset to discover that, by South American standards, referees in this World Cup are very lenient on tough tackling and physical contact.

There was a risk of Ecuador losing their heads.

But they found their discipline and settled into the game with some pleasing possession football.

Admittedly, two goals to the good Italy were happy to watch them do it.

And until a late shot from Delgado, keeper Buffon was untroubled.

As expected, Ecuador's main striker looked short of match fitness, and seldom got the better of Alessandro Nesta.

The team's other big name, Alex Aguinaga, also struggled to make any impression.

After waiting an entire career to play in the World Cup, it is sad that Aguinaga's opportunity has finally come too late for him to do full justice to his wonderful range of skills.

Now 34, he could not cope with the pace of the game.

Ecuador improved after the break when the lively Edison Mendez took over playmaking duties.

Aguinaga had the honour of leading his side out for their first ever World Cup game and listening to the national anthem.

Perhaps the time has come for coach Gomez to accept that his veteran midfielder has reached the stage when he is more likely to be effective coming on in the second half to use his ability against tiring opponents.

With Delgado not fully fit and Aguinaga off the pace, it is hardly surprising that Ecuador had little bite up front.

It is precisely because his team were losing the physical battle at the sharp end that Gomez took off Aguinaga at half-time.

Ecuador's coach tried to redress the balance by introducing the burly Carlos Tenório, rather than the more technical Ivan Kaviedes.

For the next game, though, Gomez would be well advised to think about reverting to the Delgado-Kaviedes partnership.

The twin strikers were the best thing about the team in qualification.

Working close together they were frequently able to conjure goals from nothing.

After doing so much to take Ecuador to Asia, Delgado and Kaviedes have earned the right to pool their forces against Mexico on Sunday.


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GROUP G
  P GD PTS
MEXICO 3 +2 7
ITALY 3 +1 4
CROATIA 3 -1 3
ECUADOR 3 -2 3




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