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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Putting Ecuador on the map
Ecuador fans will be watching their country compete in the World Cup for the first time
Ecuador fans celebrate a 1-0 win over Brazil

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Ecuador has plenty to celebrate this year - not only is the economy showing signs of recovery, but the country takes part in the World Cup for the very first time.

One of the factors behind their qualifying success is their national stadium, which lies in the heart of the capital city, Quito.

The Stadio Olympico is at 3,000 metres altitude, and has some very soft, long grass which makes it more difficult for players to work and run.

Only Argentina managed to win here in the World Cup qualification series.

But all this talk of altitude and strength-sapping grass is given short shrift by the locals.

Most prefer to extol the virtues of the charismatic coach - the Colombian-born Hernan Dario Gomez.
Ecuador coach and national hero Hernan Dario Gomez
Hernan Dario Gomez is a national hero in Ecuador

But it could have been so different, because of an incident halfway through the qualifying campaign.

It's a story that ought to make Hollywood producers sit up and take note.

Gomez was sitting in a restaurant when he was shot and beaten with the butt of a gun.

The attack was said to be revenge for a former president of Ecuador whose son had been dropped from the under-20 team.

Gomez survived, but went home to Colombia, vowing never to return.

The people of Ecuador, though, had other ideas.

A song was written in his honour, there were public demonstrations, and eventually Gomez decided to see the job through.

Andreas Cantor, a football commentator for Telemundo says Gomez is a national hero.

"He is a very good coach, very knowledgeable about the game.

"I was surprised that he came back after almost being killed but he knew that Ecuador had a fair chance to qualify for the first time.

"He wanted to be part of history and not stay at home and have someone else take all the glory".
Ecuador striker Agustin Delgado
Striker Agustin Delgado has just moved to English side Southampton

Fans attribute Ecuador's success to the ability of Gomez to forge the players into a team.

National goalkeeping coach Milton Rodrigues says: "Now it's not just about competing, the players want to have fun. It's a lot more like a family."

But the team's success could have wider ramifications.

Since Ecuador lost its currency to the dollar, there has been a constant craving for ways of expressing national identity.

The football team have, for the time being, filled that void.

The only other national sporting hero is the tennis player Nicolas Lapentti, who was at the match against Uruguay.

"I have never been as nervous at a soccer match in my life" he says.

"When Ecuador scored the equaliser everyone went crazy. I lost my voice a little bit as well.

"I think this will help the country because everyone gets behind the national team.

"Every time we tried to qualify in the past something happened and we didn't make it. But this time we finally did it.

Nicholas Lapentti - 'The country believes we can do it'
Ecuador's other sporting export Nicholas Lapentti

"People are saying if the team can make it then the whole country can make it.

"It's kind of a theme that's going around the country that we can do it and we can make it.

"A lot of people don't even know where Ecuador is, they think it's in Africa.

"But now Ecuador will be known all around the world for its soccer team".

As you drive from the airport into Quito you come across a wall.

It's eye-catching because painted onto it are images of Ecuador's sporting legends.

Football is represented by an image of the country's greatest ever player Alberto Spencer.

By the end of the year, he may not be alone.

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