Ivan the incredible as Ecuador rewrite plot

Rejects Kaviedes and Delgado make impact as South Americans continue dream journey
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The Independent Football

On the underside of Ivan Kaviedes's left forearm is tattooed - in English - "If you don't know me, don't judge me" and it has pretty much worked as a maxim for his nation, Ecuador, in terms of world football.

Crystal Palace fans will say they know Kaviedes, who has a reputation for being talented but disruptive, all too well. The 28-year-old striker was a £2 million bench-warming flop at Selhurst Park in their recent season in the Premiership before being shipped back to South America. The sight of the substitute breaking clear to roll the ball to his fellow forward to secure the crucial second goal as Ecuador resoundingly beat Poland in Group A's second tie would have had them blinking their eyes in disbelief back in SE25.

That the man who scored the goal, and set up his country's first, was Agustin Delgado would have provoked an even more startled reaction on the South Coast. Here was a player whose two years at Southampton, after being acquired for a fee of £3.5m following the last World Cup, Ecuador's first, was even more of a disaster. Five starts and a history of illness and injury ended with him basically rebelling and refusing to return.

The cliché that the Ecuador-ians don't travel well has been borne out time and again. They beat both Argentina and Brazil in qualifying, but these were two of the eight home games they won at 2,800m altitude in Quito. Their only other victory was in Bolivia. At 3,600m. The players don't excel at overseas clubs, either: only two of the 23 play their football in Europe, and one of those is Aston Villa's misfit Ulises de la Cruz. The midfielder Edwin Tenorio is at Barcelona - but that's the Ecuadorian version, the country's most popular club, who last year sacked Delgado. Unsurprisingly, he had been accused by directors of lacking effort. But Delgado, who has announced he will retire after this tournament, comes alive when he plays for "La Tri", as the national team are known.

He is their hero. "The country will be celebrating but we will continue to work to give them more happiness," Delgado said after the match, while back in the rainswept streets of Quito there were wild celebrations. The government had declared Friday a half-day holiday and, with the poor, banana-producing country suffering political instability, hope to harness the feelgood factor.

They nextmeet Costa Rica on 15 June. "That game is now the most important in our history," said Carlos Tenorio, who scored the first goal, although the constantly chimed watchword from the players was the need to stay "calm". A victory in Hamburg and it could well be the Ecuador-ians whom England face should Sven Goran Eriksson's team top their own group. But as well as they played, and as badly as Poland performed, there is little to fear. Both central defenders - the captain, Ivan Hurtado, who went off injured, and Giovanny Espinoza - are doggedly impressive, but the goalkeeper Cristian Mora is a slight, nervy figure who would surely struggle to deal with David Beckham's set-piece delivery.

But that, maybe, is to come. Ecuador's coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, an astute 46-year-old Colombian, believed an impor-tant point was made in Gelsen-kirchen. "I notice people criticise us for only ever winning at high altitude, but this stadium was more suited to Poland, so now everyone knows we can win in other conditions," he said.

Indeed there were estimated to have been at least 35,000 Poles inside the 48,000-capacity AufSchalke Stadium. For them, and the players, the evening brought back memories of their exit four years ago, when two successive defeats ended their hopes of a place in the second round.

"This all reminds me of Korea now," said Michal Zewlakow, one of four survivors from 2002. "The fans gave us something amazing tonight, something I have not seen before. After this, every-one who starts against the Germans will leave their heart on the pitch." The Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc was even more succinct. "I am simply ashamed," he said.

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