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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
De la Cruz: 'A dream come true'
Ulises de la Cruz
De la Cruz thinks Ecuador can spring a surprise.
For Ecuador right back Ulises de la Cruz, 7 November 2001 was the day a dream came true.

A mainstay in his country's defence, and ever-present through qualification, that was the day that de la Cruz and his team-mates drew 1-1 with Uruguay, the point guaranteeing World Cup qualification.

"I dreamed of becoming a professional player but never thought about making it into the national team, and I never thought I would make it to a World Cup," the Hibernian player told BBC Deportes.

Open Quote
Gomez gave us the confidence that perhaps was what we were missing
Close Quote
Ulises de la Cruz

"I always watched it on television, but it seemed too far away. I can't believe it sometimes.

"The country has struggled for 50 years to get to a World Cup, it has been a very long and frustrating process.

"We thought qualification this time was going to be very difficult at first, but our coach [Colombian Hernan Dario Gomez] gave us the confidence that perhaps we were missing."

De la Cruz does not underestimate how much this first qualification means to his countrymen.

"We grew happier and happier after realising that our victories put a smile in people's faces. They have helped them to forget the economic crisis and many other things.

"They supported us even more in the difficult games."

The 28-year-old accepts that Ecuador are rank outsiders in Group G, where they meet Italy, Croatia and Mexico, but he is happy enough with that.

"I don't think anybody would bet a penny on us, we are the weakest team in the group," he said, "but that is what motivates me.

"We don't have any pressure so maybe we can spring a surprise."

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