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Ecuador in World Cup, but How Far Can It Go? - 2002-05-22

Ecuador is making its World Cup debut at this year's tournament in South Korea and Japan. The Andean nation has proven doubters wrong by qualifying from the tough South American region. But advancing at the World Cup might be more than Ecuador can manage its first time at the event.

Few observers would have picked Ecuador to make the World Cup this year. Known for its oil, emeralds and being on the dividing line between the northern and southern hemispheres, the country has not been seen as a football power.

But coach Hernan Dario Gomez's squad surprised skeptics by qualifying from the tough South American region, with victories over Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru. But for all its success, international football commentator Derek Rae says Ecuador might not be able to pull off surprise wins in the World Cup.

"I mean nobody can doubt their ability," says Mr. Rae. "They did very well to qualify from South America, which is never easy in the best of times. But exactly how they will fare in the cauldron that is the World Cup finals it is difficult to say exactly."

One of Ecuador's star players, Agustin Delgado, scored goals in the victories over Brazil and Paraguay as well as three in qualifying against Bolivia. He has complained of knee trouble in training camp, but coach Gomez says the forward should be ready in time for the World Cup. But even with Delgado healthy, Derek Rae says Ecuador might have a harsh dose of reality when it takes on Italy and Croatia.

"Of course, sometimes a team is so relaxed that it goes out there and enjoys itself, and the result is that they qualify against all the odds," Mr. Rae says. "But I think it is extremely difficult for Ecuador in this group just based on the presence alone of Italy and Croatia."

Ecuador opens its World Cup play June 3 against Italy in Sapporo, Japan. Then it plays Mexico June 9 in Miyagi before finishing the first round play against Croatia June 13 in Yokohama.