The unexpected elevation of Ecuador into the last 16 of the World Cup has been due in no small measure to a link with Manchester United.
The cynics scoffed that they were a side who could only operate at altitude, and especially in Quito, where they defeated Argentina and Brazil in qualifying. Instead, Ecuador opened in Group A with victories against Poland and Costa Rica, and England are looming on the horizon.
The South Americans' success under their coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, can be traced back to talks he had before the tourn-ament with United's assistant manager, Carlos Queiroz.
The meeting had been organised by the London-born Les Dickens, who now lives in Ecuador and acts as a consultant to the country's football federation (FEF).
Suarez was anxious to get the inside track on how European teams are set up, and travelled to United's plush training complex at Carrington, near Sale. Dickens, who has known the Colombian-born coach for 11 years, accompanied him on the trip. United gave them access to all areas, with their coach Mike Phelan involved as well as Queiroz, and the visit proved an eye-opener for Suarez.
Dickens said: "Suarez came away with a better understanding of European teams after meeting Queiroz. It was a great learning experience for him and very uplifting. As a manager you are very much on your own, and Manchester United were very helpful. They rolled out the red carpet and we were given the royal tour, and stayed for five hours. The visit was worthwhile; you just have to look at how Ecuador played when they defeated Poland. They love their football in Ecuador and it is crazy there at the moment."
The South Americans will top the group on Tuesday if they get a point against Germany in Berlin. They would then play the runners-up from Group B, likely to be England or Sweden. Suarez has said he does not mind if Ecuador play either England or Sweden in the second round, adding that he believes they can beat anyone.
Ecuador, playing in their second World Cup, cruised through their first two matches, upsetting Poland 2-0 and then thumping Costa Rica 3-0. "Anything is possible, especially now it is down to the last 16," Suarez said. Looking forward to Tuesday's match, he said he had great respect for Germany and especially their captain, Michael Ballack, whom he described as one of the world's best players.
Suarez added that his team would look to set the tempo and they would be prepared for Germany's threat at set-pieces. But he may have to manage without Carlos Tenorio, the striker who has scored in both of Ecuador's games so far. He has pain in an ankle, but Germany may have a matching absentee. Christoph Metzelder, the centre-back, has twisted his knee, which may leave an opening for Robert Huth to come in.Reuse content