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MEXICO'S NEXT OPPONENT

Ecuador No Match for Italy, 2-0

June 04, 2002|Mike Penner

NIIGATA, Japan — Ecuador looked every bit the part of a wide-eyed World Cup first-timer Monday, marveling at the wondrous sights all around--the plush grass field inside the high-tech Sapporo Dome, the filled stands, the two goals in the first half-hour by Italy's Christian Vieri.

By the time the Ecuadoreans had settled down and settled in, their first-ever World Cup match was fairly determined--a 2-0 loss to Italy at Sapporo, Japan, and a quick assignment to last place in Group G.

"The players were very nervous and they were not quite ready," Ecuador Coach Hernan Dario Gomez acknowledged. "But we played very well in the second half and we are not discouraged."

Ecuador, which plays its next game against Mexico on Sunday in Miyagi, was knocked back early by two Vieri goals in a span of seven minutes.

The first, in the seventh minute, came after Italy's Francesco Totti had broken down the left side of the Ecuador defense, carrying the ball almost to the end line before laying it back for Vieri just outside the top of the penalty area. Vieri drove the ball into the upper right corner of the net past goalkeeper Jose Cevallos and Italy led, 1-0.

Twenty minutes later, Vieri struck again, this time taking a long feed, shedding his defender and powering a low shot that caromed off Cevallos' leg and rolled behind the keeper. Vieri kept running, easily beating Cevallos to the ball for the tap-in.

"I want to [dedicate] my goals to the doctors of the national team," said Vieri, who has been bothered by hamstring, ankle and knee ligament ailments during the last year.

"They have helped me get back to fitness and that meant I was able to score these two goals."

Gomez said he was encouraged by his team's performance in the second half, when Ecuador produced several scoring chances after Italy Coach Giovanni Trapattoni made substitutions.

"We did OK and we have the strength now to go on from this in the next two matches," Gomez said. "Italy are a very strong team and probably one of the strongest in the World Cup."

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