55th Minute, Ecuador v Costa Rica, 2006 World Cup Group Stage
Ecuador had never qualified for a World Cup until 2002 where they finally made it to football’s greatest tournament thanks in part to a change in the qualifying format which meant they got to play more home games. Ecuador play their home games in Quito, despite it being the second city in Ecuador in terms of population and popularity of football. Port city Guayaquil in the south of the country is home to the two biggest clubs in the country but the national stadium in Quito which is 2,782 metres above sea level, gives them an obvious advantage.
Altitude isn’t everything though as we’ve seen over the years with Bolivia who haven’t made home advantage count often enough and that’s down to the simple fact they don’t have seem to be able to produce the quality Ecuador does.
The main source of Ecuadorian football talent doesn’t come from urban centres such as Guayaquil and Quito as you’d maybe expect but from a rural highland area in northern Ecuador called Chota Valley. This valley has produced an incredible amount of international footballers in the past two decades, so much so that a lot of research is carried out as to why and even a documentary film has been made. The only reason the Chota Valley wasn’t heard of sooner was due to the big clubs and the football association in Ecuador largely ignoring black players.
Ecuador didn’t receive an influx of slaves from Africa as with some countries in South America but a few escaped from Colombia and from shipwrecks in the Pacific and dispersed into the coastal areas. Many also crossed the Colombian border to the Chota Valley to work as slaves for the Jesuits. The black population of Ecuador remains poor to this day, facing discrimination at work and in education on a daily basis but the football teams certainly don’t exclude black players anymore especially those from the valley, an area which has a population of around 25,000.
When Ecuador qualified for its second World Cup in succession, half the squad for the 2006 World Cup was made up of players from that region. Some of the players were already well known on the continent and in Europe. Ulises de la Cruz played in the Premier League for Aston Villa and told the story many a time that football was the only way out for him as with nearly everyone in the Chota Valley.
Ecuador’s fast style of play, which would see them comfortably beat Poland in their opening game of the 2006 World Cup, was born in the Chota Valley too. There are no grass fields so players are forced to play on quick, dusty, uneven and hard pitches meaning they develop ball control, skills and dribbling quickly. Ex-Southampton striker Agustin Delgado, was one of the players born in the famous valley, he set up the first and scored the second as Ecuador got only their second ever World Cup win.
In their second match in Germany in 2006 they faced Costa Rica knowing a win would see them qualify for the second round. The Andean nation came to a standstill as El Tri searched for an historic triumph. After just eight minutes star winger Antonio Valencia crossed for Carlos Tenorio to power home a header to send Ecuador wild with celebration. El Tri were comfortably the better team and Costa Rica barely created a chance.
A few minutes after the break Agustin Delgado makes it 2-0 to Ecuador for the second time in the World Cup with a superb finish.
What Happened Next?
They lost to Germany in their last group game which meant they finished second and would face England in the next round. A David Beckham free kick on the hour mark proved to be the winner in a tight and dull affair but the Ecuadorians still received a hero’s welcome back home.
Ecuador narrowly missed out on the 2010 World Cup but have qualified for 2014 World Cup where they are confident of getting out of their group.
Agustin Delgado set up a football school in the Chota Valley and players try and fund the region as much as they can. Ecuador’s left-wing government has also been working to improve the lives of the people in the area so those who don’t have the talent for football can dream of becoming of doctors or lawyers instead.
Documentary- Short version here, I can’t find the full film online…