Day seven of the 2006 FIFA World Cup gets underway this afternoon in Hamburg, as Group A rivals Ecuador and Costa Rica meet for the ninth time at the 50,000 capacity AOL Arena.
Following Germany’s dramatic last-gasp victory over Poland in Dortmund last night, Ecuador stand on the brink of qualification for the second phase. Should they defeat their Central American opponents this evening they will definitely progress without having to get any sort of result against the hosts in the final group match next week.
Ecuador’s 2-0 opening day victory over Poland has therefore put them in a strong position. It has been hailed in most quarters as one of the shock results of the tournament so far, along with Trinidad and Tobago’s draw with Sweden in Group B, but many South American journalists have begged to differ. Many pundits seem to have forgotten that Ecuador enjoyed victories over Brazil and Argentina in the South American qualifying section, and secured their place at the finals with something in hand.
Players and staff alike have appeared rather sensitive to the surprise generated amongst the majority of media and fans following their win last Friday. This evening they will be aiming to prove that the result was no fluke as they attempt to reach the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
“Somebody always causes a surprise at the World Cup,” striker Carlos Tenorio stated in the aftermath of Friday’s excellent result.
“To us, however, it is not a surprise. People disrespect us and think we are capable of losing 10-0 to teams like Brazil, but that will not happen. We beat them only a few months ago. After this World Cup the world will know much more about Ecuador’s players and what we can achieve.”
It is curious, given the amount of excitement generated by South American footballers, that of Ecuador’s 23-man squad only two are based in Europe. Left winger Luis Antonio Valencia plays for Recreativo Huelva in Spain’s second division, while Aston Villa’s attacking full-back Ulises De la Cruz has seen limited playing time since his move to England.
“It is hard to explain the reasons for this,” Tenorio continued.
“Maybe this will change after Germany, especially after our result against Poland. We have some very good players.”
Ecuador’s Columbian coach Luis Suarez is almost certain to field the same team from the opening victory for this afternoon’s match. Centre-half Ivan Hurtado, Tenorio and fellow stiker Augustin Delgado have all received treatment in the last few days for minor injuries but they are expected to be fit. Suarez will hoping so, as these three players are seen as his key men along with the vastly experienced De la Cruz.
Suarez has been attempting to keep his squad’s feet on the ground in the build up to this afternoon’s match, reminding them that, despite the win over Poland, their qualification for round two is far from assured.
“This was a great result against Poland,” he said on Tuesday.
“But the mountain his high. It is just the first step. Ecuador have always been criticised with people saying that we could only win when playing at a very high altitude. But despite the atmosphere and the low altitude we managed to pull it off. We are confident that we can do it again on Thursday.”
Delgado, who netted his team’s second goal against the Poles, also urged his team-mates to keep their concentration and ensure that Friday’s win will not be devalued by a failure to build on it.
“We have celebrated the victory but we must also concentrate on the next Group A match,” he warned on Saturday.
“We worked hard and got our reward, but we must do it all over again. Ecuador will be celebrating but we want to bring them even more happiness.”
Costa Rica won many fans during their brave defeat by Germany in the World Cup’s opening match last Friday. Despite the 4-2 scoreline the ‘Ticos’ were in with a chance of causing their own upset until Torsten Frings put a seal on the Germany victory in the game’s dying moments.
Should the Costa Ricans win this afternoon then the confidence behind their South American opponents will be vastly reduced. Such a result would put the two sides level on points, but Costa Rica’s final Group A match against Poland currently looks a far easier proposition than Ecuador’s clash with the confident host nation.
Such an eventuality is not lost on Costa Rica’s Brazilian-born coach Alexander Guimaraes, who insisted on Wednesday afternoon that his team could still realistically qualify for the second phase.
“On paper we have already played our toughest match – against Germany – and we came through it with much credit despite the defeat,” he said.
“Our hopes are still very high and we will get better. If we play as we did in our opening game then we can beat Poland and Ecuador. Ecuador’s final match against Germany looks a very tough one indeed, especially if they are under pressure to achieve a positive result.”
“Tomorrow’s match will be tough though. Ecuador are a very organised team and they have been playing the same way for 12 years so the players and staff are well used to the system. The are defensively sound and will try to play on the counter-attack, which they did so effectively in the qualifying phase.”
Paulo Wanchope, whose two goals on opening day lifted his international record to a highly impressive 45 goals in 70 games, also feels his team have a good chance of progressing but warned that under-estimating Ecuador could be a mistake.
“We left with our heads held high after the Germany match and we always expect to score goals,” he said.
“We have a very good side but so do Ecuador. They have very quick players such as Ulises De la Cruz, Carlos Tenorio is a threat on the right side of their attack and Augustin Delgado has a real eye for goal. We won’t be taking them lightly as other teams maybe have in the past.”
Guimaraes has promised to make some changes in personnel, but is so far keeping them to himself. One forced change should be Jervis Drummond replacing Gilberto Martinez in the centre of defence. Martinez has been struggling with tendonitis in his left leg and has been ruled out. Martinez has spent several seasons in Italy, and his experience will be missed this afternoon. The athletic Drummond, a track and field star in his youth, will have to be on his mettle against the confident Ecuadorian strikers.
Another potential change could see the gifted Cristian Bolanos replace Rolando Fonseca on the left side of midfield. Bolanos appeared as a substitute against Germany, and has undoubted ability. His performances for Deportivo Saprissa in December’s World Club Championship led to a trial with Liverpool.
By Mark Robinson
Ecuador: Mora; De la Cruz, Hurtado, Espinoza, Reasco; Mendez, E Tonorio, Castillo, Valencia; Delgado, C Tonorio
Costa Rica: Porras; Marin, Umana, Drummond, Gonzalez; Solis, Centeno, Sequeira, Bolanos, Gomez; Wanchope
Referee: Referee: Coffi Codjia