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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Delgado's return lifts Ecuador
Fans surround Delgado after another qualifying win
Delgado was the toast of Ecuador in qualifying
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Ecuador have said their goodbyes.

First they were waved off by their own fans in Quito and Guayaquil.

Then they went to see their Ecuadorean communities in New York and Madrid.

Their little tour pointed to two clear conclusions.

First, Agustin Delgado is back. Second, they need him.

Southampton chose a strange time to buy Ecuador's goal machine.

Agustin Delgado
Agustin Delgado
Born: 23.12.1974
Caps: 46
Goals: 22
Club: Southampton
It was well known that Delgado was suffering from knee problems, and only kept going because he was vital to his country's cause in World Cup qualification.

Perhaps he played on for longer than was good for him, because his recovery has been slow.

The process has put a strain on his relationship with Southampton, and the player is seemingly reluctant to return to England after the World Cup is over.

National team coach Hernan Dario Gomez was forced to draw up contingency plans in case Delgado could not get fit in time.

Now he can sleep a little easier.

His key striker may struggle for match fitness, but should be able to make some contribution to Ecuador's campaign.

'El Tin' Delgado is worth gold to his country, as was clear on the recent tour both in his presence and in his absence.

The big man was rested against Atletico Madrid earlier this week.

Ecuador dominated the game, carved out a procession of chances and were beaten 2-1.

Ivan Kaviedes is bursting with talent and burly Carlos Tenorio is full of promise - but neither of them have the goalscoring knack of Agustin Delgado.

Short of full fitness, he was pulled off before the end of the games in the United States.

But he scored in both, getting the only goal against Yugoslavia and the first in the 2-1 win over Milan.

It was a similar story all through Ecuador's wonderful run in qualification.

Tight games were decided by a piece of fine Delgado finishing.

Gomez paid tribute to his centre forward by descibing him as someone "who takes correct decisions at important moments".

With his gangling frame it is hardly surprising that Delgado is a constant threat in the air.

Agustin Delgado in action for Ecuador
Delgado played only 143 minutes of football for Southampton
But he is much less clumsy than he looks, and his nine goals in qualification were a testimony to his all round skills.

As well as fierce headers there astute first time strikes with both his left foot and his right.

His favourite came away to Peru; he won the game in injury time by outpacing the home defence, rounding the keeper and sliding home.

More than anyone it was Delgado who took Ecuador to their first World Cup finals.

And a fit Delgado offers their best chance of denting rival defences an flying home with their heads held high.

Then the people should come out to greet them with the same sense of pride they felt at the send off.

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