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Uruguay face tactical dilemma

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Tim Vickery | 08:17 UK time, Monday, 5 October 2009

It's South America's newest force against the oldest when Ecuador meet Uruguay this Saturday in a crunch World Cup qualifier.

It is a match with much to teach about the geography of the continent and the history of the game in this part of the world.

Introduced mainly by the British, football first caught on in the South Cone, in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo - a region that was going through large scale immigration and rapid urbanisation.

Football provided the new city population with a common language, and before long the game had been re-interpreted by the locals. A sinuous, balletic style replaced the muscular Christianity straight line running of the English.

Uruguay were first out of the blocks. Pioneers of the welfare state, the country had a mentality of social inclusion that helped the game quickly spread downwards to all the classes. The Sky Blues were selecting black players long before Brazil, and effectively began the modern era in football with their Olympic gold medal win in 1924.

Uruguay v EcuadorUruguay and Ecuador drew 0-0 when they met in Montevideo in September 2008

As the 20th century wore on South American football spread north, often carried by Argentines and Uruguayans. Colombia had a golden moment with the launch of its professional league in the late 40s. Ecuador went professional a decade later - but it was not until the Copa America of 1989, when the national team beat Uruguay, that Ecuador gave the first sign that they were not merely making up the numbers.

Now, of course, they have made it to the last two World Cups, reaching the last 16 in 2006, and in 2008 LDU, or Liga of Quito, became the first club from the country to win South America's Champions League, the Copa Libertadores.

This process has included the geographical spread of the game within Ecuador; from the port of Guayaquil, where it first caught on, up the Andes to the mountain capital of Quito where, at the altitude of 2,800 metres, Saturday's match will take place in the Atuahalpa stadium.

As well as its historical and geographical resonance, Ecuador v Uruguay in World Cup qualification is a clash that has a significance for me. I saw my first one on TV in Rio in February 1997. I knew very little about Ecuador at kick off - but a lot more 90 minutes later and was amazed as they powered to a 4-0 win.

With Aguinaga looking like a prince in midfield and Delgado razor sharp up front, they would have been too strong for many teams that day.

Some five months later that game was fresh in my mind when I made my BBC debut with a piece for World Service radio. It was all about Ecuador. They may fall short of place in France 98, I argued, but they are a rising force who should be qualifying for World Cups before long. If only all my predictions were half as accurate!

Just over four years later I was in Quito for the meeting of Ecuador and Uruguay. The whole country was a-quiver, with the hosts needing just a point to book their first ever World Cup place. For some reason I was given photographer's accreditation, and so I was on the pitch, standing behind the goal Ecuador were attacking and close enough to see the nerves and the strain on the faces of the players.

Uruguay went ahead with a penalty. Standing next to me was an official, I think from the local FA. He was becoming increasingly upset at the performance of Ivan Kaviedes, the gifted but wayward striker who later had a brief spell with Crystal Palace.

'Take him off," the man was shouting. "He's done nothing." I had to agree. Kaviedes was having a nightmare - but never bet against talent. Inside the last 20 minutes Kaviedes headed home the goal that took Ecuador to the World Cup. The official and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Ivan KaviedesIvan Kaviedes scored the goals which took Ecuador to the 2002 World Cup

Uruguay were smiling as well. The point they picked up was vital as they just held off Colombia to finish fifth in the table and grab the play-off spot.

Four years ago the situation was exactly the same. Ecuador needed a draw to qualify and a point would help Uruguay in their battle to finish fifth - 0-0 was the result.

The fascinating thing about Saturday's match is that things are slightly different, although not for Uruguay.

Bearing in mind the difficulties of playing at altitude, a draw would be a good result for them. It would give them the chance to snatch fifth by winning at home to Argentina on Wednesday (unless Colombia or Venezuela win both their last two matches). But if they lose and (a fair assumption) Argentina win at home to Peru, it will be over for Uruguay.

The difference this time is that Ecuador need to win. They have done extremely well to haul themselves back into contention, but are still suffering from a disastrous start to the campaign. A draw would leave them having to win away to Chile on Wednesday - and even that result might only guarantee fifth spot, and the play-off against rivals from the Concacaf region.

A gentlemanly draw does not suit Ecuador this time. They will seek to make the most of home advantage and put the pressure on a Uruguay side with a poor away record.

So what do Uruguay do? Sit back and try to hold on? It's a risky strategy. True, Ecuador have failed to replace big Delgado up front. But little Cristian Benitez is dangerous, and there is plenty of firepower in midfield with the long range shooting of Mendez, Valencia and Ayovi.

Unacclimatised goalkeepers suffer at altitude and Uruguay have had goalkeeping problems all through this campaign, so allowing Ecuador within shooting range is asking for trouble.

Do Uruguay go for it? Spearheaded by Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez they carry plenty of attacking threat, and Ecuador's defensive unit (Cevallos or Elizaga in goal, Hurtado and Espinoza at centre back) is ageing together and starting to creak.

Uruguay's approach will be fascinating - and looks like the key variable in this latest version of South America's newest force against its oldest.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) I'm a growing fan of Pato, at AC Milan. And i believe he is a regular starter for them, yet he isn't getting a look in at national level, he seems a young skilful dedicated player, who has an immense future ahead of him if he keeps improving, yet players like Adriano, get into the team ahead of him, I believe Pato was in the Confederation cup squad, but got little or no time in the tournament, what are your thoughts on him and the national team, does he deserve a chance ahead of others?
Adam Welsh

A) Alexandre Pato really is an immense talent, a potential genius, but I wonder if he might be suffering from the modern day phenomenon of everything coming so quickly. He's living the life, has married a soap opera star, lots of distractions - at Milan last year Carlo Ancelotti said that his attitude had slipped a bit.

Dunga carried him around for a while, but, truth be told, others have taken their opportunities better - Luis Fabiano is full of goals, Nilmar got a hat trick last time out, Adriano is back on top form. I would interpret Dunga leaving Pato out of the squad as a way of giving him a kick up the backside. I'm sure the door is not closed to him in terms of next year's World Cup squad.

Q) Argentine born Nestor Ortigoza of Argentinos Juniors just became a citizen of Paraguay. I understand his move, since he has much better chances of playing the World Cup with Paraguay than he does with Argentina. Now, this issue raises two questions: first, will the Albirroja will benefit from having him around? and second, are these kind of moves as big a concern to their national identity as the Paraguayan media claims?
Dario Prieto

A) He's a spiky central midfielder who I can imagine fitting into Paraguay's style. I saw a newspaper poll showing a majority opposed to his call up. But he's perfectly eligible - he has a Paraguayan father.

It's interesting that these players - midfielder Santana is another one, Argentine born with Paraguayan mother, or left back Morel Rodriguez, son of a famous Paraguayan player who grew up in Argentina - they seem to get more opportunities when Paraguay's coach comes from Argentina.

It can be hard for the players if they don't speak any Guarani, but I think this is something the Paraguayans are going to have to get used to. There will be more and more of these cases, because so many Paraguayans moved to Argentina in search of work. If the children of the diaspora are eligible, they're good enough and they want to play, then Paraguay gain nothing by shunning them.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Nice blog Tim

  • Comment number 2.

    nice blog as ever Tim, love your work here and on the radio.

    Quick question, do you think, as I do, that Luis Fabiano is not widely acknowledged as one of the best strikers in the world simply because he refuses to move away from the sun at Sevilla? I just wonder if his profile in Europe is suffereing as a result.

    Also, do you think Adriano deserves a call up to the national team? It's all very well him getting back on form, but he is playing in a very weak league (however much I love it). Is it a case that it raises his profile in brazil at the expense of European based players (amauri, pato, grafite etc etc)?

    Thanks

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Tim, another cracking blog this week.

    Just wanted to know your thoughts as to why Adriano & Renato of Sevilla don't get picked for Brazil? From what I've seen of Adriano he's capable of filling the problematic left back position for Brazil. I also feel that Renato could be the creative midfielder Brazil are missing, he has a great range of passing. I can't understand why these two don't play more regular for Brazil.

  • Comment number 4.

    The population of Scotland is higher than Uruguay, so it is hardly any surprise that Uruguay haven't had any impact on the international stage in recent times. However, man for man, I know which team I would prefer.

    That said, it would be nice if Ecuador did qualify for the World CUp Finals again and go one better than their second-round knockout to England last time in Germany. Hopefully at the expense of Argentina... [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 5.

    Suarez is so hot these days (12 goals in 9 league games, including 2 yesterday) that I expect him to carry that over to the national team stage. Much as Ecuador are on the up (kudos to LDU who are set for another deep run into continental competition), I think a rejuvenated Uruguay are too much for them.

    ClubWorldRankings.com

  • Comment number 6.

    Well Mr.Vickery the final countdown for Argentina and South America will be known in a little over 10 days. As a Argentine I am rooting for Ecuador to beat Uruguay and Chile to beat Ecuador. If Argentina win and so does Ecuador, Uruguay are out of the WCQ stages. Then the match up between Chile vs Ecuador is going to be massive. Chile has not looked all that great in their last few games. But if Chile get a point in Colombia they are in. But the game in Colombia will be no easy task. Fast forward to Round 18, when Chile and Ecuador lockup. If Chile already qualified will they take it easy and let Ecuador win. I hope not, and I do not think they will for a couple reasons. 1, they need a win at home just to get the moral back up and bring the country some faith to the team again. And second, Marcelo Bielsa, the name sound familiar? Tim has written a lot about him in the past. The Argentine coach for the 02 WC who failed. I just can see him doing that to his old country. So I believe he will do his best to get his team to win. So if Argentina wins at home vs Peru and gets a draw in Uruguay that could be enough to land them in the 4th spot, if Ecuador lose their last game. The teams below Uruguay are Venz, which I do not think they will win both games vs Paraguay and Brasil(Away in Brasil). Colombia still have to play Chile at home and travel to Paraguay. Tough games. So if Argentina play their cards right and get a win right away vs Peru I think they will be fine. But that is easier said then done.

  • Comment number 7.

    Tim: What are your thoughts on Javier Saviola? He moved at a young age for ALOT of money to probably the greatest club in the world F.C. Barca and despite playing a lot with Kluivert never seemed to settle. He then went on loan ran out his contract and Real Madrid snapped him up. Surely they saw something? But again he doesnt play. Is it just a case of he moved too early like so many others? Is he just simply not good enough? Think he is as Lisbon now.

  • Comment number 8.

    hey itm, can you please tell me some more about alex aguinaga. i remember him for necaxa against man utined in 99/00 looking dead decent. and know that he is regarded as the best ecuadorian player ever. why did he never go to a top european club if he was that good. also what happened to that kaviedes, he looked good as a young guy, playing for emelec or someone, scoring banging the gaols in. then celta didnt work out. did he never fulfill his potential or this, or was he just never as good as people thought. both were very good on championship manager

  • Comment number 9.

    Pato said himself he misses playing with Kaka, without him theres no creativity in that ageing Milan team. And at the moment he can't do it himself.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Tim,

    As a Birmingham City fan I was wondering what your thoughts are on Cristian Benitez.

    Do you think he has a future in the premier league?


  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Tim,

    As usual, very good blog. Has Dunga won over the Brazillian public as a manager yet? There were times previously when he looked to be one defeat away from the sack. Do the Brazillian people accept the rather more rigid and defensively minded set to his team (like the one he captained to glory in 94) as opposed to the free flowing style we have been treated over many years? Also, who do you see as the long-term successor to Gilberto Siva? I was surprised to see him play as much if not even more since his move to greece from Arsenal. I thought he would fade away from international football. Do Brazil simply have no-one else apart from him and Felipe Melo for the holding midfield role?

  • Comment number 12.

    Great Blog as usual Tim. I have a couple of questions for you.

    Do you think Maradona is showing too much of a bias towards home based played (partuclarly their defense in the last few squads)? I can see why he has done it - fans may believe that if the players play in Argentina then they may have more 'connection' with the fans. I seem to remember a couple of years ago there were complaints over the fact that Brazil's players had all "sold out" and moved abroad.

    How close do you think Insua of Liverpool is to being called up to Argentinas full squad? He has been first choice all season and is viewed as better than a sometimes Italien international left back so he must be in with a shot.

    How is Nicolas Gaitan of Boca progressing? I heard great things about him a year or two ago and not too much since. He was meant to be the most creative player to come from Argentina in a generation - has he peaked too early or just suffered from overhype?

    What is wrong with Boca Juniors? They seem to be playing really poorly. Is this because of the financial issues in Argentinian football? They are the self confessed Ajax of South America and aim to have a majority based home grown squad and make money by selling those players. However,has the money problems forced the club to sell those players too early for not enough money so that they don;t get the full value and also the don't get the full benefit of a season of two of a great player. Examples include Juan Forlin and Facundo Roncadlagia (i know the spelling wrong) leaving for Spain and Palleta and Ezequal Munoz meant to be leaving in January along with a couple of their young strikers. To me this seems to be a lot of players to be leaving all at one time. Usually those transfers would be spread over more than one season.

    Anyway i was wondering what your views were on those topics. Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 13.

    Tim was there ever any allegations of Ecuador and Uruguay playing for they draws??

    2 games in a row ending in draws which enables both teams to qualify would surely raise eyebrows??

    Or am I being a pessimist

  • Comment number 14.

    11. At 11:53am on 05 Oct 2009, sirAntonFerdinand wrote:

    Permit me to point out that Gilberto Silva being an important part of teh BRazil squad is more down to Arsene Wenger having made the wrong decision to let him go than any fall in the player's form. Arsenal have quite clearly suffered without his experience and skill.

    We seem to get into this mindset that if a player does not play in the premier league, then he can't be very good. This is wrong as demonstrated by players like Kaka and Messi who have never played in our league. Another similar point of view is that if a player does not cut it in the premier league then he is not very good. This is also wrong!

    Very good players have come to the premier league and not performed (Veron comes to mind) and then gone elsewhere and shone. Seemingly average players have also left the premier league and gone on to shine elsewhere (Forlan - who just cant stop scoring in spain) while players who were excellent in the premier league have also gone to other leagues and not risen beyond the average (Flamini anyone?)

    Gilberto Silva in my reckoning is still an excellent player. Not too old to be ineffective but experienced enough to be invaluable. The 2002 success was built largely around him and I can see him being pivotal again in 2010. His leaving Arsenal is Arsenal's loss!

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Tim,

    I am a fan of Thai Premier League side Thai Port FC, and We currently have two Brazilian players in our squad. One is a defender called Mario Cesar Da Silva, the other is a veteran striker called Edvaldo Goncalves Periera.

    He has played all over the World for teams like Maritimo (Portugal), Shanghai Shenua (China), St Gallen (Switzerland) and Toluca (Mexico). Do you remember him from his days in South America? He started out in Brazil at Botafogo, and also played in Uruguay from Defensor Sporting.

    www.thaiportfc.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm 90% sure you wrote about that little anecdote between you and that official before. Good blog though I thought Ecuador were great in 2006 and we were lucky to beat them with the help of a certain Mr Beckham.

  • Comment number 17.

    Nice blog tim.

    Has Ronaldo (the real one) got any chance of getting into the Brazil squad? Even if they have him on the bench, surely he'd be a good option to come on if they need a goal?

    www.football-journo.com

  • Comment number 18.

    Bit of non-sequitur, but I reckon Luis Fabiano is a shoo-in to be top scorer at WC2010. And I will be putting my money where my mouth is.

  • Comment number 19.

    Tim,
    As you pointed out in your blog, Ecuador have done exceptionally well to be in contention after a poor start to the campaign. A victory at the weekend and I'm sure Ecuador will be in South Africa next year. I also believe that Ecuador will get stronger in the years to come and will be regulars at future World Cups - would you agree?

  • Comment number 20.

    19 - the history of international football shows time and time again the difficulty of replacing outstanding players.
    As i mentioned in the blog, ecuador have yet to replace tin delgado - with a centre forward of that calibre they would have beaten brazil and paraguay earlier this year instead of drawing with both, and they would be much closer to qualifcation.
    the big problem coming for them now is replacing that defensive unit - if they can make it to south africa it will surely be the last hurrah for hurtado, a truly magnificent player for them, as well as excllent srvants such as ezpinoza and cevallos.
    even mendez, who i recall as he baby of the side, is now 30. replacing all these players will be very difficult, so i think it's natural to expect them to side back for a while - so if the long term trend is upwards, there could be some problems in the short term.

  • Comment number 21.


    16 - i wrote about the thing with the official in a blog about kaviedes when he joined palace. but no problem - i'm allowed to repeat myself - and i'm allowed to repeat myself.

  • Comment number 22.


    8 - alex aguinaga was a truly class act who spent the bulk of his career in mexico. at the time there wasn't really a market for ecuadorians in europe - it's easy to forget just how much progress they've made in a short time.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Tim, I remember watching a Uruguay squad training days before an international match. They were very compact, focussed and all on the same wavelength, like legionaires. Admittedly none of the looseness of a Brazil or US approach, but enough game-time craft to exploit any Ecuador mistakes, and are aware of their stamina limitations.
    My question: will Ecuador be a 1-generation-wonder like Colombia of the 90's, or is there a longer term development?

  • Comment number 24.

    Tim,

    Great article as usual. It's hard to believe such a tiny nation like Uruguay has consistently managed to produce outstanding talent.

    I hope Uruguay and Argentina make it just because of the players they have. I'd prefer to see Messi or Forlan any day instead of any Ecuadorian or Venezuelan. They're just not good enough for the big show.

    But the rules of the game are clear: you have to qualify if you want to play. And at this point it's hard to predict who'll make it.

  • Comment number 25.

    Uruguay have great players such as Cristian Rodriguez, Maxi Pereira (who has been great for us since his arrival, rock solid fullback) and the upcoming Urretavizcaya, who is in the under 20's currently. Uruguay U20 will be meeting Brazil on the first knockout stage this Wednesday.

  • Comment number 26.

    To-what do you attribute the success of Ecuador, in terms of qualifying to the World Cups in South America qualifying, versus a country like Colombia where the players are of similar characteristics and arguable have a more competitive league? (Not to mention a population size 3x larger)

  • Comment number 27.

    Tim,

    As Ecuador continue to excel and their players register on European clubs radars, is there a possibility this could have a negative effect on home advantage if many of the squad move overseas? Would the home players not need to time to acclimatise with the altitude too? I don't know if it's a genetic thing and wouldn't be an issue or not.

  • Comment number 28.

    Brilliant blog as always Tim!

  • Comment number 29.

    Great blog and love listening to you on up all night as I travel home from work. Tim what's your view on Alexis Sánchez of Chile?

  • Comment number 30.

    Big fan of your blogs Tim, but seriously!

    I've said it before & i'll say it again, altitude has no place in football. If Ecuador were playing their home games at an altitude that did not negatively affect the physical capacity of the opponents we wouldn't even be talking about the possibility of their qualifying.

    Not that I really care about them, but if I was asked an opinion (don't worry, I realise no one is! lol) i'd say I hope they don't get there.

    A couple of months back I watched USA as clearly the better side against Mexico in the Azteca, but they ended up losing for what was so obviously no other reason than the fact they couldn't cope with the altitude against a Mexico side who's away record is abysmal. What a joke games at altitude are. Completely unfair, and there's no place for them in high level sport if it wants to be taken seriously.

  • Comment number 31.

    But how far do you take it Roberto??

    Ban games in particularly hot climates?? Many would argue that games taking place in the midday sun of Brazil to satisfy TV schedules are far more dangerous.

    Ban games in particularly cold climates or on say the plastic pitch of Moscow, where it's pretty much impossible to maintain a grass pitch all year round.

  • Comment number 32.


    31 has made an excellent point - the anti-altitude campaign has left bolivia etc wondering why people are just picking on them when there are other extreme conditions - it smacks of discrimination - especailly as extreme heat would appear to be more of a health risk than altitude.

    And the current ecuador side got a comfortable 0-0 draw away to Uruguay, as well as a draw away to argentina - only an injury tine goal stopped them winning - so it's unfair to say that their progress is only down to altitude.

    furthermore, as someone stated, the more players they have based abroad the less the advantage, because they have to re-acclimatise their own players.

  • Comment number 33.

    I understand the complaints about the altitude games but there is really very little options available. There are some countries that are simply at a high level above see level or where all the major cities are above sea level to a large amount.

    Now it is slightly unfair to make the opposition play at altitude but it would be an even greater discrimination to ban a country from playing within its own borders or force them to play in a stadium in the lowlands away from a lot of their people. This is especially the case in South America where fans are relatively poor and cannot afford to travel the distances European fans do to watch games.

    If games at altitude are to be banned then there is also a case to ban away games. For some players playing in front of 60,000 plus hostile fans is equally daunting/game effecting as playing at altitude.

    However, Tim whereas i agree with you in general - players can get used to extreme heat relataively quickly (also heat waves can come and go), altitude is something that requires a long time to acclimatise to fully. However, i feel many sides benefit from playing at altitude because it gives them an excuse if they loose. For example Argentinas loss at Bolivia was excused as a one off at the time and although they haven't lost by such margins since, all it did was showcase a team with many fundamental flaws.

    Also in other news i noticed that today Insua of Liverpool was called up to the full Argentinian squad. While i feel this is long overdue i do have a slight worry that Maradona may do a 'Scott Carson' and start him in one of the countries most important games ever. If it goes wrong it could ruin him. Anyway let me know of your thoughts on that.

  • Comment number 34.

    I truly expect and Ecuador romp (if it isn't raining that is. Ecuador's style disintegrates in the rain). 3 - 0 is my prediction. Ecuador tied Uruguay in Montevideo playing a very disciplined match looking for that result. Now we need a win. I am confident they will deliver.

  • Comment number 35.

    Finally someone asks a question about Paraguay. Considering how well we have done over the last few years we get very little press, especially when we have some quality players around the world such as Salvador Cabañas, Roque Santa Cruz, Nelson Haedo Valdez, Oscar Cardozo and even Paulo da Silva! (at Sunderland now) not to mention players such as Riveros, Benitez and Veron in Mexico. It's a shame the U-20s did so badly against South Korea today, because we have some quality young players coming through too. But for me, the two stand out players this season in the local league have been Osmar Molinas, who plays as a deep lying midefielder now, with and incredible passing range, and Rodrigo Rojas, who with a bit of luck and lots of practice could become the Paraguayan equivalent to Steven Gerrard. He's a real box to box player, a good runner, can hit the ball with both feet, but he's a bit incosistent at the moment. I hope they both go to the World Cup. They would certainly make a difference to the Paraguay squad. Keep us in mind at this world cup. If we can get over always feeling like underdogs we may surprise a few people.

  • Comment number 36.

    tim

    good blog.
    South Americans always complain about the success of teams once they arrive at the world cup- the teams that qualify represent all south americans and not just their own country! No use qualifying as ecuador and paraguay have recently to reach round of 16 and go home. Particularly Ecuador who had stage fright!

    Unfortuantely for uruguay almost their entire squad is Europe based and the travel time must have an effect. A squad of mainly local based players or from the continent (ie Ecuador, Venezuela and even Chile) is acually a big advantage allowing more prepartion time and even separate national squads which train regularly in between matches. This issue is not often discussed.
    Argentina and even Brasil have struggled in parts of these qualifiers and this must surely be a main reason. Uruguay seems to definitely suffer from this however i suspect that they would have a much better showing in a world cup situation than Ecuador or even Chile as they are more attuned to playing against different styles of futbol due to the European exposure!

  • Comment number 37.

    #3: Sevilla's Adriano had a couple of games, and Renato much more, he has almost 30 caps for Brazil, if I remember right. Seems more due to competition than anything else.

    And frankly, anyone that is complaining about Adriano being picked over Pato is not seeing at least one of them play, or most likely both. Not only Adriano is playing great football, but Pato has been rubbish both at Milan and for Brazil. Like Tim said, he seems too unfocused, not unlike Ronaldinho.

  • Comment number 38.

    Great job Tim, as usual.

    The altitude excuse used to diminish Ecuador's and LDU's modest accomplishments is getting rather old. The single most result determinative factor is player talent and team chemistry. It would be naive to say altitude is not influential, but it is not the reason for success.

    In failing to qualify for 9 World Cups from 1962 to 1998, Ecuador played a total of 55 qualifiers and won 11. They were pretty much a joke side and even a draw would be cause for national celebration. The celebration of mediocrity is what characterized Ecuadorian football.

    Dusan Draskovic and later Francisco Maturana took over the national team in the 1980's and 1990's. A generation long improvement in organization, tactical approaches, and youth developement helped sow seeds that have been bearing fruit since earlier this decade. But more importantly, a high sense of skill and confidence developed in the Ecuadorian footballer that was never there before.

    Unbelievably, but somewhat predictably given their slow but methodical ascension over the previous 10-15 years, Ecuador qualified for the 2002 Cup and again for 2006, where they did rather well. LDU won the Libertadores in 2008 and dominated Internacional of Porto Alegre for the Recopa 2009. In the past altitude was not a concern because Ecuador was so lousy. During most of their history, like a boxer flinching first when stared down by his opponent before a fight, Ecuador would give up before matches even began and play for draws. Now, Ecuador and LDU can take the field against anyone anywhere and play for the win.

    Ecuador's squad is actually quite good now, but the first talking point whenever a team has a qualifier or Libertadores game away at Ecuador is altitude. It has risen almost to a phobia/fear level, where opposing players are more focused on defeating the altitude. This mental strain is perticularly noticeable whenever Argentina or Brasil, and their club teams play. Altitude becomes an excuse exaggerated to mask bad results and take away deserved credit from Ecuador.

    Maybe it will take a generation to correct that fear, which Ecuador will gladly continue to capitalize on.

  • Comment number 39.

    Excellent article Tim,

    I follow Ecuador due to the enigmatic Kaviedes.

    However, with group qualification uncertain and the table congested, I would like to think Uruguay will go out onto the park with guns blazing, than sitting back and blaming altitude.

    Should be an interesting game though!

    Keep up the good work,
    MOP13
    www.manonplatform13.blogspot.com
    www.thedirtytackle.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 40.

    #36: Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that only European-based players are at a high level of playing. They assume that if a player is not in Europe then, automatically, that player is not as good. Wrong assumption. There are plenty of players playing in South America with great talent that could easily fit into any European team but haven't decided to move or don't want to. The reason why most players eventually move there is money, which attracts talented players. A good example is Juan Roman Riquelme, who chose to come back to Boca Juniors when he had offers from teams such as Tottenham.
    So don't assume that travel time is the major factor in the results of teams such as Chile and Ecuador because they also have players abroad but have proved they have enormous talent and potential. The players that have home-based also have great talent and will likely also move to Europe in the future, again, do to the economic aspect of the game.

  • Comment number 41.

    Tim, is it true that other South American countries are offering Peru money if they beat Argentina in their World Cup qualifier?

  • Comment number 42.

    #35

    You are clearly a fan of Olimpia. No other explanation of why someone would want Molinas and Rojas in the National Team with so many players better than them.

  • Comment number 43.

    41 - i think it might take a bit more than money.

    peru's away record in this campaign - 0 wins, 0 draws, 8 defeats - 2 scored (one of them a bizarre own goal), 24 conceded.

    best bet would be try to persuade brazil to take then field in peru shirts.

  • Comment number 44.

    Alimana, I am a football fan in general. Who else do you think would be good? I think some of the players in the U-20s are quite good too, especially Ortiz and maybe Hernan Perez. I don't like Eduardo Ledesma for the national side, but that's just my opinion. Can you suggest any other good players playing in the local league? I said those two because they are still young. Outside of paraguay we have ortigoza and several others.

  • Comment number 45.

    #44

    Just because they stand out in Olimpia doesn't mean they are that good. Okay, maybe Rodrigo Rojas has something to offer but Molinas? Do you really see potential in him? I think Luis Caceres from Cerro Porteño is a far better player.

  • Comment number 46.

    31. Tim and 32, I'm sorry,

    I know there are the supporters of games at altitude, and you are clearly amongst them, but I don't accept the argument of "well, there are countries with extreme heat or cold".

    If I am exceptionally fit, and well hydrated and prepared I can deal with extreme heat or cold. Yes it provides an advantage to the home team and makes the game more difficult for the visitors, but if i'm in good shape and as well prepared as possible I can deal with it, even if I do have to take it into consideration when I plan how I will play. In that instance I do believe it's part of playing in that country (wow, have I opened myself up with that one?!)

    There is no preparation you can make for playing at altitude, except arriving early enough to acclimatise, which is impossible in pretty much every case. Therefore it is an unfair advantage. Even if they are used to it, the home players still have to cope with extreme heat or cold, but at altitude one set of players feel no effect, whilst the visitors are breathing out of every orofice after 10 minutes!

    Sorry, but the "hot and cold" argument just doesn't cut it.

    Like I said before, lets have games decided because one team is better than the other, not because the other team don't live as high up as them!

  • Comment number 47.

    45

    I like Luis Caceres too. I think that Molinas has been outstanding for Olimpia the last few months, probably their best and most consistent player. He has a good range of passing, runs his heart out and isn't scared to tackle, although i still think he needs to control his temperament better. He does sometimes go in dangerously and can get angry and get himself sent off. That is my one concern, but he is playing for a team that is very weak defensively and has to do a lot of the defending himself. I think Olimpia would be a lot worse without him. I think he could play in the role Topo caceres plays in, and would have more influence on the game because topo plays too deep and doesn't pass the ball as well as Molinas. But only time will tell.

  • Comment number 48.

    I find it remarkable that Uruguay haven't lost in Wc qualifiers at high altitude since that 4-0 hammering they received in 1997. For 2002 they drew 0 - 0 in La Paz and 1 - 1 in Quito, 0 - 0 in both La Paz and Quito for 2006 and 2 - 2 in La Paz for South Africa. The battle against the altitude is psychological, I remember in 2000 Nacional went to La Paz to play Bolivar in the Libertadores and their manager had critised the altitude heavily beforehand and they were obviously petrified and 3 - 0 down after 25 mins. Until the 2002 qualfiers Paraguay had always played the altitude effect down and had only ever lost once; yet in the last two qualifiers they have moaned about it previously and lost. The most successful teams playing at altitude in recent qualifiers (this is only my opinion) have been Uruguay and Chile and they packed midfield and played the ball short, Argentina tried to play like it wasn't an issue earlier this year and were fine for the first half an hour and then collapsed. Finally I think the altitude is a double edged sword for the home team because it is an advantage both physical and mental but if you hit them back or make them realise you aren't going to let it affect you they are so surprised that they don't know how to react. Whatsmore, when teams from the altitude go down to sealevel they are already conditioned in their minds that they have lost a certain natural advantage.

  • Comment number 49.

    talking about the Molinas and Rojas issue I am biased as I go to most Olimpia games but I think they both have outstanding potential who still have some way to go before they make it into the national side. Molinas has thrived and come on leaps and bounds under Kiese and I'm relieved they have stayed on at Olimpia at least until the end of the year.

  • Comment number 50.

    Many people talk about the altitude as being the key factor of Ecuador's rise in South America. But if altitude was such a deciding factor, then how come Bolivia sucks so much?

    It all comes down to having good players. Ecuador is where it is because of its players, not because of Quito.

  • Comment number 51.

    Tim

    I know Cabanas is 29 already but this guy is full of energy, creativity in the final third, skills and goals and I am wondering why he has not made the big move to Europe still... I believe he will fit in well in the premiership and you would get good three years out of him.. I watched him against Argentina and he was nothing short of magnificent, also saw him against Milan during pre season and he was also fantastic.

  • Comment number 52.

    Many people talk about the altitude as being the key factor of Ecuador's rise in South America. But if altitude was such a deciding factor, then how come Bolivia sucks so much?
    ---------

    No one has said it is the ONLY factor. A good away team will struggle against a decent home team at altitude. A good away team will beat a rubbish home team regardless. Bolivia are rubbish, Ecuador are decent.

  • Comment number 53.

    Ecuador are certainly a force in football these days. Antonio Valencia is at Manchester United, but it is great to that the 4. placed team in South America still has a large base of players plying their trade at home. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecuador_national_football_team

    I think Venezuela will be the next team to surprise the established order down there.

  • Comment number 54.

    oh, and Equador weren't playing at altitude when they got to the knock-out stage from a very strong group with Poland, Germany and Costa Rica. England didn't exactly cover themselves in glory in that 2. round game either. People make to much of this altitude thing, you can prepare for that nowadays anyway.

  • Comment number 55.

    #36: Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that only European-based players are at a high level of playing. They assume that if a player is not in Europe then, automatically, that player is not as good. Wrong assumption. There are plenty of players playing in South America with great talent that could easily fit into any European team but haven't decided to move or don't want to.

    Really? Riquelme wouldn't have managed the pace, and his attitude is also an issue.

    Maradonna has been picking SA based players over those in Europe, how has that worked out?

  • Comment number 56.

    Another excellent article, accurate, informative and up to date.
    I really enjoy your weekly article on the South American world of football because you just dont talk or rave on about Brazilian and Argentian football like others do but you also hightlight the emerging talent and forces of the rest of the continent like Ecuador.

    I believe Ecuador deserve to be at the World Cup instead of Uruguay because of there form in the last decade they have proven to be one of the best in the South American continent, for example to qualify for 2002 World cup they qualified in 2nd place even ahead of Brazil and Paraguay. In the qualifiers for 2006 Ecuador once again qualified 3rd place ahead of Paraguay and Uruguay who in contrast struggled for the playoffs to then get finally get knocked out....Its good to see that the humble Ecuador team are finally getting the credit and respect they deserve in the football world.

    Its a shame they are not showing the Ecuador vs Uruguay match on British tv because its going to be more than a final because whatever the result it will directly affect the rest of the teams qualifying. My predictions is that Ecuador will have a tough game but will beat Uruguay and the South American qualification table will be: 1.Brasil 2.Paraguay 3 Chile 4.Ecuador 5.Argentina, Which Argentina will then go on to beat Costa Rica for the play-offs.
    Looking forward to reading Tim's article next week on his view on the crunching games this weekend.

  • Comment number 57.

    52 - "Stokerambo",

    Ecuador qualified from a strong world cup group?!!! What tournament were you watching?! Poland had a complete meltdown as per usual, and Costa Rica were........well, Costa Rica.

    and "You can prepare for altitude nowadays". Really? Please enlighten us. How do you prepare for your body being unable to function at it's normal capacity due to it's inability to take on sufficient oxygen with spending the necessary 10 days - 2 weeks aclimatising?

    We're all on tenderhooks awaiting your imparting of the knowledge behind this new breakthrough that flies in the face of science & physiology! This will change world sport forever!..........please, go on.........

  • Comment number 58.

    sorry. Stokerambo was #54. lol

  • Comment number 59.

    You can NEVER acclimatise for altitude unless you spend time, which doesn't exist on those situations.

    The problem of heating and cold is that they are a danger for the health of the players. Only that.

    Altitude changes the way the ball flies when kicked and how long a player can play, that changes games, that changes results. Look no further than 1997 Copa America, Bolivia finished as runner-ups being the hosts, not only that but EVERY nation that play their game in altitude ended beating who doesn't(Argentina finished 2nd in a weak group, for example) with the exception of Brazil, who went to win the championship.

  • Comment number 60.

    I've just managed to catch the U20 World Cup last 16 match between Brazil and Uruguay, the first in the tournament I've had a chance to watch.
    Lodeiro looked like a Uruguayan Xavi, so Uruguay have got a very promising young play maker coming through, but the defence left a lot to be desired.
    I was very impressed with two goal Alex Teixeira, the captain Giuliano and right back Douglas for the Brazilians. They played a lot like the senior squad, with devastating counter attacks, tearing appart Uruguay on the break.

    On a side note, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Argentina fail to beat Peru on saturday and Maradona is demoted back to shirtless cheerleading in the stands! Pretty much every selection and tactical decision he has made before and during the games has baffled and confused me.

  • Comment number 61.

    Don't some african countries also play at high altitudes?

  • Comment number 62.

    Don't forget that recently Bolivia have beaten both paraguay (4-2) and argentina (6-1) at home. They also beat Peru 3-0 and secured a few draws. I think they have only been beaten twice at home these qualifiers.

  • Comment number 63.


    Nice and well researched article. Plenty of insights on history and geography of the region and it's football playing and football loving people. Thanks Tim.





    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 64.

    I find it remarkable that Uruguay haven't lost in Wc qualifiers at high altitude since that 4-0 hammering they received in 1997.

    ---------------------------------

    They lost in Bogota in 2000.

  • Comment number 65.

    64. At 11:59am on 08 Oct 2009, Aarfy_Aardvark wrote:

    I find it remarkable that Uruguay haven't lost in Wc qualifiers at high altitude since that 4-0 hammering they received in 1997.

    ---------------------------------

    They lost in Bogota in 2000.

    Fair point, was only taking into account Quito and La Paz.

  • Comment number 66.

    Tim-Do you think that Paraguay may do Venezuela a favour? They have qualified.Chavez supplies the new left wing goverment of Paraguay with 27000 barrels of cheap oil a day which accounts for 85% of their needs.Is it pay back time this weekend?AND although it is unlikely on wednesday almost as unlikely as Bolivia when they beat Argentina 6-1 I cannot see Brazil crying too much if either Argentina or Uruguay were knocked out of the World Cup by Venezuela qualifying.Brazil and Venezuela are also on very good economic terms now.So Venezuela could qualify with" a little help from their fiends"

  • Comment number 67.

    66 - I wouldn't mind Argentina not qualifying. But for political reasons? That would be as pathetic as can be. If what you suggest ever happen then I can only hope that Conmebol or Fifa disqualify both squads and ban them from any competition for a thousand years.

    (I'd also not mind a UN-led intervention on Venezuela because of that)

  • Comment number 68.

    Hello Tim, nice blog as ever. I had a question about Arsenal's Denilson: he has been a regular starter for them last season and he started every game this season before his injury. He has developed quite well and he is definitely a good midfielder. Now, do you think he will be called up in the future and maybe even make a couple appearances for Brazil? I'd love to see him included in Brazil's World Cup squad, but I think it's too early to talk about that of course.

  • Comment number 69.

    Firstly, you talk of football being "introduced mainly by the British" - suddenly, that becomes "muscular Christianity straight line running of the English".
    British? English? What's it to be? And what on earth does the latter statement mean anyway?

  • Comment number 70.

    Got the tactics about right I reckon.

    On the basis of that showing, Ecuador don't deserve to go to the world cup, and Uruguay do.

  • Comment number 71.

    Ecuador played poorly. They lacked creativity, discipline and urgency. Uruguay did what they needed to do. After this performance, I doubt Ecuador will get the result they need on Wednesday (beat Chile in Santiago) to have a chance at qualifying via play-off with CONCACAF. Interestingly, if Ecuador somehow does manage to beat Chile and Uruguay beats Argentina, Argentina is out of the World Cup!

  • Comment number 72.

    So Bolivia beat Brazil 2-1... was it just because of the altitude. I didn't watch the game so I don't know how they played.

 

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