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Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Ecuador must maintain momentum
Alex Aguinaga waves farewell as Ecuador take their leave
Aguinaga waves farewell as Ecuador take their leave
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Finally, at the eleventh hour, Ecuador showed that they are indeed a World Cup team.

If there was little spectacular about their game with Croatia, it is because the South American debutants were capable of handling the side which came third in France 98, and which entered the field full of confidence after beating Italy just five days before.

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The win over Croatia leaves Ecuador with a certain frustration, but perhaps that misses the poin
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In the true sense of the word, Ecuador were a team. They defended as a unit (keeper Jose Francisco Cevallos hardly had a shot to save) and in possession they were neat and precise, keeping hold of the ball with tidy triangles all over the field.

The win over Croatia leaves Ecuador with a certain frustration; if only they had performed with the same spirit against Italy and Mexico.

It is an understandable view. But it perhaps misses the point.

Ecuador's World Cup adventure has to be seen as part of a process.

They performed well in qualification for France 98. From that campaign they gained the confidence and experience that allowed them to think that it was possible to make it to this World Cup.

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The next stage is the vital one - now they have to keep the momentum going
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This time in qualification they learned to win away from home. Then they learned to deal with the pressure of the fact that a World Cup place was in their grasp.

Now in Japan they have seen what it takes to compete at the top level.

It was not always an easy lesson, but they came through it. And in the end they and the world have seen that they can indeed compete providing they keep their concentration and work as a unit with and without the ball.

The next stage is the vital one. Now they have to keep the momentum going.

This year they played their first full international in Europe.They should be looking to play more, taking advantage of the fact that they performed with credit in their first World Cup.

They should work to ensure they keep on producing players who can compete with the physical side of the game - which does not necessarily mean strapping giants.

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Maybe the next time Ecuador make it to the World Cup, Aguinaga will be the man shouting instructions from the bench
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Edison Mendez is the smallest player in the team, but his dynamism, passing and moving and skill on the ball should be vital to the cause for years to come.

He and others have much to gain from moving abroad, to develop their game in an atmosphere that is more competitive and professional than domestic football in Ecuador.

Finally, it was heartwarming to see that the veteran Alex Aguinaga got an opportunity to show what he can do in the World Cup finals.

He made excellent contributions coming off the bench in the last two games. It was Aguinaga who made sure of victory against Croatia with his late clearance off the line.

Appearing in front of a global audience is a fitting finale to a magnificent career.

Aguinaga still has much to offer football. Maybe the next time Ecuador make it to the World Cup, he will be the man shouting instructions from the bench.


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GROUP G
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MEXICO 3 +2 7
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ECUADOR 3 -2 3

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