We continue our look this week at memorable qualifying matches for this year’s World Cup with a bittersweet victory for Ecuador.
The sudden and tragic death of twenty-seven-year-old Christian Benitez last August weighed heavily in the minds of the Ecuadorian men’s national team. The memory of Chucho, who was a member of Ecuador’s 2006 World Cup squad, weighed heavily on Reinaldo Rueda’s side and they only collected one point in their two World Cup qualifiers on the road after Benitez passed away. With their possibility of making it to Brazil apparently slipping away, Ecuador eagerly awaited their homecoming on October 11th against Uruguay. The fourth-place team in the World Cup 2010 was looking to rebound following a terrible start and was on the hunt for the final qualifying spot held by Ecuador. Thus the stage was set for a highly emotional clash at Quito’s Estadio Atahualpa.
In the thirtieth minute of the deadlocked match, Antonio Valencia received the ball on the near side. The speedy winger, who was made captain of La Tri following Benitez’ death, flew by Diego Godin followed by a perfect low cross to the streaking Jefferson Montero who knocked in what would become the match’s only goal.
Two months before, Montero scored a goal while playing in Mexico, took off his jersey to reveal a t-shirt with Benitez’ image and wept with anguish. This time his tears were mixed with the joy of over 33,000 screaming Ecuadorian fans in the stadium and the hugs of his grateful teammates.
As seen in the video below the page break, the Ecuadorian team cried, screamed and took a victory lap around the Atahualpa following the final whistle. They had practically assured themselves of the last South American qualifying berth.
“This game was for Chucho and his entire family,” said midfielder Walter Ayoví after the game. “We gave it our all for Chucho,” added Juan Carlos Paredes.
Following the celebrations at the stadium the entire Ecuadorian team went to the cemetery where Benitez was buried as a gesture of respect and solidarity to their fallen comrade.
Ecuador has a decent probability of emerging out of Group E, though the key match will likely be its opener on Sunday against Switzerland. They will be looking to keep their dream alive despite the odds and will continue to look towards their missed teammate for inspiration.
The defeat to Ecuador would be the only match Uruguay would not win in their last five qualifiers and they would go on to easily beat Jordan in an intercontinental playoff for the final spot in Brazil. Los celestes will play in a difficult Group D against Italy, England and Costa Rica.
Video Source – YouTube users Hincha Amarillo and Estudio Futbol
Online Sources – peru21.pe; The Secret Footballer; The Latin Americanist;