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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Fitting finale for the fans
Ecuador fans are in party mood as they secure qualification to the World Cup
Fans celebrate Ecuador's World Cup qualification
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Ecuador hurriedly arranged a couple of friendlies to give their supporters the chance to give them a send off.

Nothing could be more fitting.

A view of cold statistics might make it appear that Ecuador qualified because they were finally able to pick up points away from home.

When they beat Venezuala in November 2000 it was their first away win in World Cup qualification since 1965.

Indeed, in the second half of the marathon campaign their only defeat came at home, a fact which should be sufficient to kill off the idea that they are mere altitude specialists.

But cold statistics never tell the whole story.

Open Quote
Si, se puede - Yes, it's possible
Close Quote
Ecuadorean chant
The hot truth is that Ecuador's race to the finishing line of qualification was kick-started last March in Quito.

The team's historic problem had always been a lack of self-esteem.

But when they took the lead against Brazil the crowd took up a chant which helped banish all thoughts of failure. "Si, se puede," they shouted. "Yes, it's possible."

They sung it until Ecuador had won, and kept on singing it until Ecuador had qualified.

It worked. The confidence gained at home helped the team on its travels.

A remarkable bond was formed between players and supporters in Quito's Atuahalpa stadium.

As qualification got closer the fear of blowing it could have turned the players' nerves to jelly - but not while a full stadium was making sure that their thoughts stayed positive.

Ecuador fell behind against Paraguay and had a man sent off but the fans roared them to victory.

Ecuador were outclassed by Argentina, and it hardly mattered.

An Ecuadourean fan shows his colours
Partisan support helped the cause
Everyone took their hat off to a wonderful Argentina side and kept focused on the task ahead.

Ecuador fell behind against Uruguay on the big day, when they needed just a draw to qualify.

The crowd were unshaken, but stirred into helping the team score the vital equaliser.

That night in Quito the party was long and frenzied.

There were plenty of demons to exorcise; economic worries, political problems and decades of footballing frustration were cast out in an orgy of broken bottles.

On Wednesday coach Gomez and his men return to Quito for the first time since qualification was sealed.

Brazilian club Internacional provide the opposition for a game where the result hardly matters.

It is more of a party than a warm-up.

Two days later it is the turn of Guayaquil, the country's other major city, to see the national team.

Ecuador began their warm-up programme in the Pacific port with a game against Guatamala in January.

Now Guayaquil hosts the send off against local side Barcelona.

Supporters in both cities will take the opportunity to remind the players of what is possible.

And coach Gomez will bask in the feeling of confidence supplied by the fans, bottle it, and try to take it to Japan.

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