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ecuador vs argentina

(May 2004)

We had been arguing all day about paying an overinflated price for football tickets from a “friend” and I´d finally relented. On arrival in Quito we had phoned him, only to discover he had already sold them. Scoundrel.

We found a hostel and caught a bus up to the stadium, arriving about 5.30pm. All tickets had been sold but there were still some grubby touts outside clutching whole books of tickets. "General, Preferencia, Tribunal?". In the middle of another philosophical debate a couple with child stopped us and asked if we wanted to buy 2 tickets in Preferencia for $35. Still just a business, but at least they asked, so I paid, and Maria Fernanda was happy, and we went off to the mall so she could buy herself a Ecuador T-shirt and me dinner.

Matchday - Ecuador v Argentina. Got up about 10.30. Wandered down to a very good museum. I felt a bit crap, but I’d been to the museum four years ago, arriving with just enough time before closing to see it was very good. So I forced myself around. At about 11.55 Maria Fernanda asked two police officers (masquerading as curators) what time we should go to the stadium. Glance, nod, “12pm”. The game kicked off at 4pm. I still considered two hours to be plenty of time so we left at 1pm, paused to watch some angry rock in a concert outside the museum ( the usual global phenomenon of teenagers in black trying to get drunk, smoke and hate the world at the same time), got something to eat, caught a bus up to stadium, arrived about 2pm, bought one tablet at the pharmacy (Ecuadorian farmacias are open 24hrs and have lots of modern illuminated neon signs but still make their money by selling you one tablet at a time) and lay down on a grass verge to rest and inhale the atmosphere.

Ecuador play in the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa (so good they named it twice, although is it acceptable to call something the Olympic stadium just because it has a running track? I must have missed the Quito Olympic bid). Anyway, Atahualpa was the Inca king who controlled the top half of his territory from Quito, and was ambushed by the Spanish in Cajamarca, ransomed for a room of gold, and killed anyway. Argentina displayed the same cavalier attitude to their encounter, arriving the day before without Hernan Crespo or Javier Saviola and were punished severely on the pitch but generously permitted to leave.

First the stadium. Our ticket said gates 11-15 (ie. the whole top side of the stadium) and when we entered though gate 11, we found out why everyone else had turned up at 10.30 with their radio, newspaper, sunscreen and a bag of goodies. There are no steps, only concrete slabs forming seating which stretches all around the oval. And these were entirely occupied. We couldn´t even move on the top level (4 deep with people + wheelchairs and vendors). We decided we couldn´t stay up the top, so started to climb over people, desperately looking for space. After about 15 jumps, two guys below gestured and shouted, “Are you two? There is room here”. Somehow we reached them and clinched the deal – “It´s OK, you are buying the beers”. We passed the time until kick off drinking and talking and swinging their El Nacional cow bell around.

Eventually, the teams came out flanked by about 100 police. Ecuador have a lot of energy but not a lot of skill. They still play Augustin Delgardo up front who displayed the same languid attitude to work as he did when it came to getting on a plane to play for Southampton. Ulises de la Cruz was quite good, running up and down the wing and overlapping with a guy called Valencia, but basically the first half was slow and dull, 0-0. In the second half Ecuador came out and ran at the Argentines for the full 45 minutes, wore them out and drove them mad in the end. Every time the Argentines got the ball in midfield they were ambushed. A guy called Lara came on who was about 4ft tall and as fast as Franz Carr. After 53 mins Edimes disposed Tevez in midfield, ran at the defence, took out Samuel and Cambiasso, squared to Lara who slammed it into the top corner. 1-0.

An agonizing nervy 30 mins followed while Ecuador kicked Argentines, until on 89 mins, Ulises crossed and Delgardo lazily rose and headed it back across and into the top corner. The stadium went mad. Beer everywhere. An Argentine got sent off. The game restarted with a horrific foul and when the ref blew his whistle, about 200 journalists and police ran onto pitch (not fans as we were guarded by barbed wire and more police). The ref decided to cut his losses and end the match. All the players ran down the tunnel and the police marched up and down the pitch in formation. Complete chaos. No-one quite knew what had happened but went off to celebrate. I got half way through the park when the drugs and adrenaline gave out and spent the next 18 hours in bed with a fever. Anyway, it was worth it.


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