Monday, May 15, 2006

#24: La Tri


Where? Northwest coast of South America, bordering Colombia and Peru.

How Big? Doesn't seem very big, but it's actually about the size of Nevada. Population is little bigger than Illinois.

Something I learned from the CIA factbook? In 2004, over 20,000 refugees fled into Ecuador from Colombia, fleeing drug related violence. That seems like a lot to flow into a pretty small country, especially when Colombia is kind of a richer nation. Instead of fleeing to the cities, Colombians headed to Ecuador. Also related to the drug trade, probably, is Ecuador's compulsory military service.

Geopolitical importance: Well, the drug stuff is pretty important, and while Ecuador doesn't have the cultivation Colombia has, it's got a big time trafficking problem. Add to that the fact that Ecuador sits on top of some prime oil fields... and basically we're looking at a prime spot for 21st century news. Ecuador is Venezuela in 5 years.

Anything fun about Ecuador? Cuy. Order it next time you're in an Ecuadorian restaurant (and, yes, there are some). In fact, there's a restaurant in Atlanta that serves it. It supposedly tastes like something between rabbit and dark meat chicken. It's eaten all over the highlands in Ecuador. What is it? Guinea pig. Yummy. Fourth-grade-tastic!

On to the Futbol...

Ecuador has only qualified for the World Cup twice, but those two are 2002 and 2006. It's currently the golden age of Ecuadorian futbol. Or at least they've finally realized that they have a ridiculous advantage by playing home games at really really really high altitude.

Qualifying for this year's cup really showed how they used the home field advantage. They took 23 points in 9 home games - 7 wins, 2 draws, including wins over Brazil and Argentina. Meanwhile, when they came down to where there's some freaking air, they only took 5 points in 9 games (1 win, 2 draws, 6 losses). This is a team that can take all comers at home, but can't beat anyone on level gound, it seems. And in recent friendlies not a mile or two up in the air, Ecuador has had trouble scoring and hasn't been winning.

The team is mostly domestically based, but there are a couple of players with experience in Spain, England and elsewhere in Europe. The squad doesn't scare too many other teams, but there's some talent there. Watch for de la Cruz in the defense.

The one to watch is a veteran - Augustin Delgado. He's scored in the world cup before, he's the all time leading scorer in Ecuador history, and he's got experience in England. He might find the net this time around too.

But that'll be the only goal they get, as Ecuador will struggle some and play not interesting soccer the whole time. Shame too, that they got this slot in such an easy group (the second easiest in my opinion).

They open with Poland at the Stadium AufSchalke, where it should be loud and full of Poles. Ecuador plays slow down and tries to win on the counter. Doesn't work. They can't find the net, and Poland beats them 1-0.

Costa Rica is their next opponent, in a rare matchup of Western hemisphere teams in this cup. A decent matchup for Ecuador too. Delgado scores early, but the defense gives up a late goal. 1-1.

Finally, Ecuador faces Germany, who has already clinched advancement. Germany rests their best players and doesn't work too hard. Ecuador doesn't force things either. By the end, the crowd in Berlin boos. 0-0.

Two draws, but an unsatisfying cup for Ecuador. Just one goal. -1 goal differential. Last in their group, 24th in the tournament.

If this were March Madness, Ecuador would be... a bad big conference team that plays boring as shit style, wins at its gross home court, but can't do a thing on the road. Texas A&M? Vanderbilt?

Perhaps if they naturally selected more players from the Galapagos, they'd be more advanced. Wow. Even I'm embarrassed by that pun.