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Saturday, 1 June, 2002, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Gomez injects defensive steel
Delgado is Ecuador's aerial specialist
Delgado is Ecuador's aerial specialist
Tim Vickery

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Once Ecuador had qualified, coach Hernan Dario Gomez weighed up his options, considered his strengths and weaknesses - and sent for his brother.

In his playing days, Gabriel Gomez was a midfielder good enough to play international football for his native Colombia.

At that time his principal task was to protect the defence. Now he carries out a similar function on the training ground.

Gabriel was mainly brought on board in an attempt to get Ecuador's centre backs up to World Cup standard. The big test comes in Monday's debut against Italy.

"Ecuador are a team with more skill than Italy," Gabriel says. "But they play a faster game than we do.

"It means we have to work at picking up their players in our half of the field. The Europeans also make much more use of the high ball played into the box."

Gomez Jr has been tutoring Ecuador┐s centre backs to deal with the aerial threat. On Monday Cristian Vieri will test whether Ivan Hurtado and Augusto Poroso have been good students.

Their own target man, Agustin Delgado, is an aerial specialist. So, in their attacking play, Ecuador make considerable use of crosses.

It is a far cry from Hernan Gomez's days as coach of Colombia, when everything passed through the feet of midfield playmaker Carlos Valderrama.

But defending against the high ball gave Ecuador some anxious moments in qualification.

Away to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay - all the other South American qualifiers - they conceded goals from crosses.

The 4-0 defeat to Uruguay was a humiliation, a result and a performance which marked a low point in their campaign.

They reacted to adversity by forging a wonderful team spirit, which at times seemed to serve as an extra defender.

Away to Peru, for example, they faced an opponent needing a win to keep alive their chances of qualification.

Ecuador fell behind in the first minute and, roared on by a packed stadium, Peru launched a fearsome aerial bombardment, with Bayern Munich┐s Claudio Pizarro as its spearhead.

It was a moment when Ecuador might have been expected to fold. But, with more grit than grace, they hung on - and won the game in second-half injury time.

At that instant Ecuador grew up and proved to themselves they were more than altitude specialists.

But spirit and sweat alone will not form a World Cup defence. Gabriel Gomez is adding the science he hopes will be the cement in the Ecuadorean wall.

"My experience tells me that, if we can make it through the first 15 minutes, we can get a positive result," he says.

On Monday, in Sapporo, we will see if he has been successful.


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