Ecuador sets sights on round 2 at World Cup

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Ecuador's national coach Luis Fernando Suarez hopes his team can reach the second round at this year's World Cup.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:40 IST
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The scandal involving Ecuador's national team isn't going to keep coach Luis Fernando Suarez from thinking his team can reach the second round at this year's World Cup. Four years after finishing second only to Argentina in South America's tough World Cup qualifying group, Ecuador was third this time behind the second-place Argentines and five-time World Cup champion Brazil. Still, the team was hurt off the field by an alleged immigrant trafficking scandal. Team coordinator Vinicio Luna was arrested in March and team doctor Patricio Maldonado was detained on April 10 for allegedly seeking US visas for at least two people not connected to the squad. On April 21, a judge issued another arrest warrant for the team's public relations director. The Colombian coach is still optimistic, however. ''As a minimum we have to get to the second round. After that, a ton of other goals will open up,'' Suarez said. ''This is what we want the people to understand.'' Ecuador will face host Germany, Poland and Costa Rica in the first round in Group A, and Ecuadorean soccer federation president Luis Chiriboga hopes the team can avoid getting distracted by the scandal. ''We ask the players for introspection and for total concentration to obtain results,'' Chiriboga said. Suarez has only publicly mentioned one name so far as a definite for his World Cup roster: Agustin Delgado. Known as ''Tin,'' the 32-year-old striker is the team's anchor. He scored his biggest goal in Ecuador's first ever win over Brazil - 1-0 in Quito on March 27, 2001. Former Ecuador coach Carlos Sevilla also thinks the team can get to the second round. Sevilla called defender Ivan Hurtado ''an icon in a defensive block for his experience and technical abilities,'' and midfielder Edison Mendez, who scored against Croatia at the last World Cup, the ''axis'' of the squad. Missing from Ecuador's roster is striker Franklin Salas, out of action with a knee injury. And striker Ivan Kaviedes is questionable. Kaviedes' performance has been erratic in recent months, including on his current team, Argentinos Juniors. Ecuador's progress in soccer is owed mostly to 10 years of Colombian coaching. In 1996, coach Francisco Maturana headed the team, followed by Hernan Dario Gomez, who brought Ecuador to its first World Cup in South Korea and Japan. In tune with that Colombian style, Ecuador's game is marked by frequent passing, a 4-4-2 formation, and a line of midfielders that mixes talent, strength and speed, backed up by swift attacking defenders. Back again from Ecuador's first World Cup appearance are Hurtado, Delgado, Ulises De la Cruz and Edwin Tenorio. Suarez also built up talent on the team with goalkeeper Cristian Mora, defenders Neicer Reasco, Paul Ambrossi, Jorge Guagua and midfielder Antonio Valencia. ''The fundamental of this squad is its collectivity - a very compact group,'' Suarez said. But critics note Ecuador's poor performance, particularly by its strikers, in matches leading up to the World Cup: five losses and one win so far. (AP)

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