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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
All quiet on the home front
Massed ranks of Ecuadoreans celebrate a goal
Ecuadoreans celebrate a rare sighting of their team
Tim Vickery

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Uruguay have been forced to call off their game against Ghana on 8 May.

The decision means that this week South America stages its final World Cup warm-up games when Ecuador play two hurriedly arranged friendlies against club sides.

It is striking how little international football has been played in South America since World Cup qualification came to an end.

Four years ago, in the build up to France 98, the five qualifiers from the continent played a total of 12 games in front of their own fans.

Argentina alone played six.

This year Argentina have not even played at home and the five teams have staged only six full internationals between them.

Paraguay's Roque Santa Cruz last played at home in October 2001
Paraguay's Roque Santa Cruz last played at home in October 2001
Uruguay are the only side to have played a friendly at their principal base, the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo.

Brazil played three games in the provinces, Paraguay played once in Cuidad del Este, and Ecuador's only full international was in Guayaquil, and not the capital Quito.

Four years ago all of the teams going to the World Cup made a point of playing at least one game in their major city.

Why the change?

One obvious reason is that football's calendar has become so crowded that the dates available for friendlies have been reduced.

Fifa stipulated just three dates where clubs were obliged to release their players for international duty.

Even if they wanted, Argentina would be unable to stage six friendlies this year.

Then there is the fact that so many of the players are now based in Europe.

From an organisational point of view it is easier to stage the games on the other side of the Atlantic.

Paraguay, for example, have played more games in England than in Paraguay.

And for the first time ever Ecuador have played full internationals in Europe.

Finally, and most worryingly, there are the political and economic factors.

Two young Argentina fans celebrate
The Argentine shirt is a national symbol
It is now obvious that the return of democracy and the end of inflation have in themselves been insufficient to raise living standards across a poverty-stricken continent.

The problems are by no means restricted to Argentina, although it is there that they are currently cutting deepest.

The symbolic importance of the national team would make an Argentina game in Buenos Aires a genuine security risk in the present circumstances.

The great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano made the connection in an essay about the protests which brought down the De La Rua government in December.

"Many of the demonstrators," he wrote, "were wearing the shirt of their national football team, their profound symbol of identity, their happy certainty of nationhood; wearing the shirt, they took to the streets.

"The people, tired of being spectators of their own humiliation, invaded the field, and it will not be easy to get them off."

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